October  1989   2533   Number 10 
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Articles:



Letting Go is the Greatest Kindness; Ajahn Anando
Walking The Way - Nuns' Tudong; Sister Thanissara
Unlocking Human Potential; Aj's Pabhakaro & Nyanaviro
Question time; Ajahn Sumedho
Extinguishing the Fires of Delusion; Ajahn Puriso
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Editorial:

Letting Go is the Greatest Kindness

Taken from a Dhamma-desana (teaching), given by Ajahn Anando on 10th December 1988.


A few days ago -a couple of us were talking about how important it is to be respected and feel appreciated: if people don't feel appreciated then they begin to feel depressed. When its brought to mind its so obvious; and yet why does it seem so difficult for us to stop and actually respond to people, particularly the people that we live with?

I've noticed that it is quite easy for me to take some people for granted. In the monastery there are the efficient ones, the ones that I know are wise enough, the ones that, if I am a bit abrupt or grumpy with them, it's not going to ruin their day. They can get things done; and because of that, I can very well take them for granted.

It's easy to take people for granted. Of course we love them, of course we care for them - but when was the last time that we actually let them know?

There are many different ways of expressing affection, and "metta bhavana", the cultivation of loving-kindness, is a way of doing so on the more subtle level. It's the most beneficial way of using the intellectual or conceptual level of the mind, the world of thoughts and ideas that tends to get scattered into a myriad of things. With metta,we direct that in a very precise and beneficial wag.

Over the years of practising this, I've noticed that one of the ways it manifests is in a greater patience and tolerance with adversity and with people who are annoying or unkind. Rather than taking some position as to how they should be, we can accept them and not contend. And when there is that lack of contention, then what we have to offer others is more tolerance, more patience or willingness just to be with them as they are, even if we are not particularly liking it. But not contending does not mean that we condone; "loving-kindness" does not mean that we like all things, all beings - some are quite evil - but we choose not to contend, not to take a position against them.

 
Whenever we hold on to a particular view of ourselves as being one way or another, inevitably the "compassionate cosmos" comes along and presents us with just those sort of circumstances which shake us until we let go.
 
I have noticed over the years of being in the position of teacher and abbot of a monastery, what used to cause,me a lot of pain was my unconscious attitude towards some of the people in the monastery. I felt that I had to impose my ideas on them, and that they would probably deviate from what I thought would be right and proper. And it took a while of experiencing; the pain of that before I noticed that the source of the pain was my attachment to a particular view of myself in relation to them. I saw myself as one who is forced to train others, one who is forced to be an example, and whenever I held onto that particular view of self in relation to them, it always inhibited free flow of information, and real communication.

I kept seeing them in relation to a view of myself, and it was not until I could start letting go of my own preconceived notion of who I was and what I was supposed to be doing with all of them, that I could let them be as they needed to be.

And sometimes the way people need to be is not the way I think they should be. What I've found is that to just back off and give them the space to grow and mature and practise and live, brings about a great deal more peace within mg own mind and it seems to have quite a beneficial effect on the community at large.

Whenever we hold on to a particular view of ourselves as being one way or another, inevitably the "compassionate cosmos" comes along and presents us with just those sort of circumstances which shake us until we let go. We are moved and we are disturbed until we see what it is that we are attached to; and then we let it go.

Parents are frequently people whom we have had love-hate relations with. And even though in some cases they have been dead for a long time, still we carry them around with us and they can be very real, very much alive. We can cling to a particular idea of ourselves and to a view of them, how they were, or how they are. And that's a great injustice both to ourselves and others - we are changing all the time.

How are we? Who are we? We've taken the idea of "me", as a particular person, to be true. "This is how I am:" "That's how they are:" "They were unloving, they were intolerant, they denied me some of the things I really needed for mydevelopment:" "If they were more loving, more affectionate, had more time for me, I would not have to experience this:" Can we see what the mind is doing then? Why do we believe that particular way of thinking? Why do we accept it as being valid, so completely true? Yet from experience with my own family I am amazed, absolutely amazed, at the power of family relationship, and how easy it is for one to get pushed back into an old role.

It has taken years of very conscious effort on my part to be able to relate to my family in a more cool and less fixed position. But the benefits have been quite marvellous. I find that I can really listen to my mother, really listen to my brother and sisters instead of being impatient with them, anticipating what they're going to say, or assuming they know what I'm thinking or what I want - and getting annoyed when they don't. But to really be with them as other people, is a matter of allowing quietness to pervade.

Through quietening down we become really sensitive and can be with that person. All of us can develop the ability to listen, but unfortunately we do not give much time to it. I am sure that many of you have had that experience, when you are talking to someone. One gets the distinct feeling that they're just waiting for you to pause for breath so that they can say what is churning away in their mind. Of course, there is no communication there: it's people speaking at one another without listening.

Ajahn Chah used to encourage us to learn to listen with the heart instead of the mind. That puzzled me for a long time. It sounded wooly, airy-fairy. Yet he was a meditation master, obviously one who had real skills and abilities in teaching people. It was not till later when we were being forced repeatedly, to be with people, and to listen to them, that it became gradually clearer that if I allowed the conceptual part of the mind to play less of, a dominant role, I became more quiet.

When we let the quietness be what people become aware of in our presence, then as a natural and intuitive response to our quietness they feel freer, less pressurized by our preconceived notions about how it should be: and a real communication its much more likely to take place. People are more open in such an environment. I have noticed time and time again, when I suddenly react to what someone has said from -a preconceived notion of what I think they mean, or what I think is right for them, it doesn't really resonate.

But when there's a quietness, then the response comes from the quietness. Then there is a certain feeling or tone about the exchange that tends to stay, and when that response is needed by the person it seems to be there.

To let go of fixed views or positions about ourselves and others is a very charitable, a very kind thing for us to do.

Traditionally, there are eleven benefits to the practice of Metta bhavana, meditation on loving-kindness. Of these, the first is that when we go to sleep, we wake up easily and happily. We are never troubled by unpleasant dreams. Some of the other benefits are that divine beings love and protect us, and also human beings love and protect us. But if we want desperately to be loved, the obvious connection is that to receive love, we must give it. That doesn't mean that we go out embracing people on the streets, but practise in the much more subtle ways that I have been explaining.

In this practice joyfulness also arises naturally, and joy is one of the Factors of Enlightenment. When there is that joyfulness, then what accompanies it quite naturally is a physical ease, and these two factors lead on to greater tranquillity and concentration. Then the concentration which follows is the suitable condition for the arising of insight.

Another benefit of metta is that we die without confusion, and if prior to death we have not developed insight, then metta bhavana will condition rebirth in a divine abode, or a very favourable state.

Now, whether or not one wants to accept that there are all these benefits, I think we've all had some taste of what it feels like to infuse the mind with lots of goodwill. Imagine what it would be like if we made much of this practice, so that it became something that the mind turned to quite naturally instead of frequently being filled with negativity - which tends to be the norm for most of us. If we could put that aside: not feeding it and not denying it, no longer allowing the mind to dwell on it....

Metta bhavana can be very difficult at first. Much of my life has been doing what I did not want to do - and it has just intensified since I have been a monk. Sometimes when the alarm goes off first thing in the morning I think, "Oh, my God, even the birds do not have to get up this early," and I'm too tired, and you know - we all know - what the mind is saying. The negative whine. So I try to turn that around a bit, not give it any room in the mind, and instead, spend a few moments focusing on the breath and on thoughts of goodwill.

I've been doing that for a while now, and it has been a very fruitful and influential practice. Apart from other effects, it brings a clear intention for my life: to live in a way that brings benefit to the world. These strong influences help determine the way I respond to circumstances.

When I was on retreat last summer, another senior monk was staying in the room I had vacated. One night I returned to get a book or something, and although it was quite late at night he still was not back. He was probably out teaching. I was about to leave when my eye caught sight of the bedding on the shelf so I decided to take it down and make up his bed, so that when he came in, a bit shattered from the day's activities, there it would be. I did it without thinking and on the way back to where I was staying, I started to feel quite happy about doing that for him. It surprised me a little bit because it was such a simple thing and it would have been just as easy to walk out and say, "It will only take him a minute you know, thirty seconds, to pull the bedding down, throw it on the floor and go to sleep" Yet some time later he mentioned it in passing, saying, "I don't know who did it, but it certainly made me feel appreciated."

So these very insignificant little actions can have quite an impact on the person. This way of practising deals with the thinking mind in a very skilful way, whereby we can encourage thoughts that have a beauty and nobility. Then we can respond to the world from a noble viewpoint, taking care to closely observe those views of self and others that we cling to.

So I offer this for your consideration tonight in the hope that it will be of benefit.

The Blessings of Loving-Kindkness
If, monks, the liberation of the heart by loving kindness is cultivated, developed, frequently practised, made one's vehicle and foundation, firmly established, and properly perfected, eleven blessings can be expected. What are these eleven?

  • One sleeps peacefully;
  • has no evil dreams;
  • one is dear to human beings;
  • one will be protected by deities;
  • fire, poison and weapons can not hurt him;
  • his mind becomes easily concentrated;
  • the features of his face will be serene;
  • he will die unconfused;
  • and if he does not penetrate higher,
  • he will be reborn in the Brahma World.

  • Anguttara Nikaya

     

     

    Visit to the Buddha-land

    On August 30th this year at the Sagely City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, Talmage, California, the ordination platform was set up for the going forth of seven bhikshus and twenty-eight bhikshunis. This is an extremely auspicious event by any monastery's standards, but the occasion was made even more auspicious by the harmonious gathering and unified practice of elders from Mahayana and Theravada schools. Venerable Master Hsuan Hua invited bhikkhus (and bhikshus) from all over the world, including many masters from China. the centenarian Cambodian Mahathera Bhante Dhamavaro and several other Mahatheras, as well as Ajahn Sumedho and ten bhikkhus from our monasteries.
         The Sagely City lives up to its name, comprising some seventy large buildings in 200 acres of Northern California countryside; but more important, it is a place where a dedicated and disciplined way of practice makes the bodhidattva ideal a tangible reality. Those of us who went and were strangers to the highly stylized conventions of Chinese Mahayana were nevertheless inspired by the hallmarks of good practice: sincere commitment and selflessness with their resultant tastes of freedom and joy.

    Sunday at Chithurst

    My four year old son asks every morning, "What are we doing today?" All through the week there are a wide variety of answers but invariably, on a Sunday, the answer is the same, "We're going to Chithurst."
         Sunday at Chithurst, and every Sunday at that, could seem like a dull proposition to the uninitiated. To us it -is a joyful day when we gather together in harmony with all kinds of people - young, old, Buddhist, Christian, British and Asian. We never know whom we shall meet or how the day will turn out, but repeatedly sunday is a pleasant experience for us.
         The atmosphere at Chithurst is such a nonthreatening, supportive one that people are able to open up in safety. We talk to strangers as if they were our close relatives and we feel relaxed about our young child running out of sight in the grounds of the house (even though he often returns both wet and muddy).
         In the frantic age of the appointment diary, where friends scan their scribbled pages, squeezing each other into slots of time, where can one meet up casually with like-minded people? The monastery springs to mind. Here, we take care of both our social and spiritual needs in an atmosphere of generosity, peace, expressing our gratitude by offering food and other requisites to the monastic community.
         We are offered so much in return for our support, the monastery playing many roles in people's lives: that of social worker, psychiatrist, friend, spiritual advisor, to name but a few.
         I recently tried to explain to a friend why I like going to Chithurst regularly. I said that one could meet ANYBODY from ANYWHERE and that these meetings took me away from the mundane level of daily existence to a wider plane, where wider thought was possible and where non-judgement was the norm.
         Those of us with small children find it difficult to join in with concentrated discussions - is there a parent among us who can claim that uninterrupted conversation exists, let alone is possible? -or with silent meditation (unless we can get to an evening sitting), but we can and do enjoy the offering of food and the relatively manageable blessing afterwards.
         There is no rush at Chithurst. We don't need to reserve our seats or show an identity card. Credentials are irrelevant and the spirit of helpfulness and of giving are all-pervasive.
         Sunday is our day of renewal, a reminder of the "good life", and we are grateful for it.
        Collette Bradley

    Our Visitor from Thailand

    His name is Ajahn Jun, or Chan, according to how you try to render Thai sounds in our spelling, and he is abbot of a monastery in North-East Thailand [having been a disciple of Ajahn Chah for many years). He is with us for the Vassa, and his benign presence is sensed so unobtrusively that if not specially noticed you might miss it, at least on the conscious level. His words of English are fewer than my words of Thai but verbal communication seems hardly necessary. Sometimes expression takes a different form, as in his vivid pantomime of a girl on the plane powdering her nose and applying lipstick! When he does deliver a brief discourse, interpreted by the faithful Venerable Javano who accompanies him, it is simple, clear and to the point, and we sense the underlying toughness rather, the inflexibility of purpose - which has made him what he is. And we are amazed and grateful for the blessing of his presence among us.

    Part of the lineage; Part II

    The conclusion of an informal interview with Ajahn Jagaro,abbot of Bodhinyana Monastery in Western Australia.

    Ajahn Sucitto: What do you think a monk from Australia or Thailand might learn in a British monastery?
    Ajahn Jagaro: Well, when you go to a new place you get a perspective, you see things being done with a slightly different emphasis. This is because the monastic form is not a stagnant tradition, the whole thing's dynamic. Life within this tradition is alive with choice of how you respond to the environment, and the greater your overview the more it enables you to use that tradition wisely. I'm very, very keen personally to have an exchange of monks between the different monasteries -not just for a visit, but as part of their training. This will help to bind our Sangha together. While in Australia I had an idea of being in the same community as the monks in England, but I couldn't feel that bond of being one Sangha; this was because of the geographical separation, which sometimes prevents this for the smaller monasteries. In outposts such as mine, the feeling is that you are isolated, and there isn't anywhere else to go. So there can be a feeling of being stuck with no option -which is fine if the people can practise well, but if difficulties arise it can be very hard to work through. I'd like to suggest that, as part of the training for the Western monks in Thailand, they consider spending a couple of years in a Western monastery. This would have a lot to offer for their own practice; it would break the tendency to have preconceived ideas about other places. Through lack of contact, the monks trained in England can easily have the idea that monks in Thailand are very selfish, concerned with their own practice and not really into helping anyone. Monks in Thailand can have the idea that the ones in the West are just into building and socializing. But its our community, and this understanding brings the sense that we're willing to help each other, I see that that's the next step for this Sangha. Through this exchange I think that a new unity - a new bond - will emerge.
    AS: Do you have any long-term ideas about how things are going to go in Perth?
    AJ: Well, the monastery is set up for having nuns, so the natural progression will be to have nuns there. This will probably mean bringing a nun from Amaravati, because theres no example for the women in Australia. We have one woman who has been an anagarika for two years, but I see that the proper procedure will be to send her to Amaravati to receive the ten precepts and to train, because here at Amaravati there its a training already established, which is evolving and which is working. Then, later on, as siladharas they could go to Australia. The situation there is suitable for nuns, but its certainly a different environment and it would proabably be quite difficult.
         So I was thinking to begin with, maybe a nun could go for just a year to get a feel for it. Once we have nuns there, it may act as a catalyst for Australian women, and it would be an addition to what the Sangha can offer to the laity.
         As far as numbers of monks, this is the fourth year that we have had ordinations, which is very encouraging. Numbers have steadily grown; however, because of this exchange idea that I've already discussed, it means that the time is coming when our monks will have been in Australia long enough to go to other places so we'll probably be losing some of the monks and sending them - over to Amaravati. We may gain one or two, either from exchange, or from ordination, but I think the size of the monastic community may remain steady.
    AS: That's six monks now.
    AJ: Yes. As far as expansion to new monastaries - I don't foresee very much of that until we have more teaching monks, but we may extend our teaching programmes within Perth. Up 'til now we haven't done much travelling outside of Western Australia, but that may change.
         We have heard that on returning to Thailand on route for Australia, Ajahn Jagaro was given the Silver Conch award. for public service by the Prime Minister of Thailand. As he is the first non-Thai to receive the award, we would like to congratulate him on this singular honour.


    *Recently one bhikkhu and two samaneras have taken ordination, and one bhikkhu has gone to Thailand.

    Help Needed in Assam

    A letter to Amaravati.
       

    Dear Sir,

    This is to introduce ourselves, that under the aegis of "Jinaratan Buddhist Missionary Destitute Home and School" sponsored by International Brotherhood Mission, Dibrugarh was established in the year 1981. There are 75 destitute children both male and female at the mission and we received nine children from the Judicial Custody at Dibrugarh for their reformation. Apart there are staff members. The mission is providing all the basic needs of the destitutes. Having been registered under the Societies Act of Govt. of India, it has no regular and permanent sources of income to bear its heavy day to day multifarious expenditures.
         The mission is imparting general education up to fifth standard at the moment, and also imparting general vocational training like sewing, tailoring, knitting etc. to the children.
         Further, we have plans to take up some more projects to impart training in things like printing, photography, radio repairing etc. There is a plan also to own our own land and buildings in the very near future.
         The number of orphans are gradually increasing and we are in need of funds. Now, we invite your kind attention to help build this only Buddhist mission in the NE Region of India.

    Thanking you, With regards, Yours truly,
    Ven. Achariya Bhikkhu Karuna Shastry
    General Secretary.
    INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD MISSION
    Naliapool, Dibrugarh-I
    Assam, India
    PIN-786001

    Doris

    Doris, the Chithurst cat, passed away peacefully in August. Those who knew her may appreciate the following cartoon of Doris's daily routine at the monastery.