Newsletter for: May 2012
Dhamma reflections from Ajahn Tiradhammo
Taking Leave - Ajahn Tiradhammo farewells.
Stepping Forward - Ajahn Kusalo considers the future.
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People come to a Buddhist monastery for many different reasons. Those from traditional Buddhist cultures usually have a reasonably good idea of what the monastery is for. Others, influenced by what they have read, heard or imagined, bring a wide range of perceptions with them. Everyone, of course, brings their own expectations, which is very important to be conscious of and know how they influence perceptions. The fundamental purpose of a Buddhist monastery is a place to preserve and practice the Buddha’s Teachings. At the present time, 2,600 years after the Buddha’s Enlightenment, there have appeared many different interpretations of what the Buddha’s teaching is. Central to all of them, however, is the relinquishment of selfishness, and the Buddha has given us a great variety of skilful ways to accomplish this. With this in mind, then the appropriate attitude when coming to a monastery is an intention to learn about Buddha Dhamma with an open, receptive, humble and inquiring mind.
For some people the practice of Generosity is their principle means to reduce selfishness. For others the main emphasis is upon purifying Morality or skillful behaviour. Some give precedence to study and learning about the Teachings, while others give primary importance to Meditation as the most direct way of stepping beyond selfishness.
While all these approaches can be helpful in reducing selfishness, they can all be rendered ineffective, if not detrimental, through grasping or holding on to them. For example, it seems rather ironic that in the modern time when we have access to most of the world’s spiritual teachings, there seems to be so many conflicting views and opinions. This is especially problematic amongst Buddhists who should be well aware of the Buddha’s very direct teachings on the dangers of grasping and the limitations of holding onto one’s own limited perceptions!
Another example particularly relevant to Buddhists is regarding meditation practices. Even though the scriptures mention a wide range of different practices, many teachers and practitioners hold on to their own techniques as the best and only way to practice. This is a serious concern in spiritual development since we are all (hopefully) changing as the practice deepens and this presumes that we may need to broaden our range of meditation exercises as new experiences require.
On the one hand we may recognize that grasping is a normal reaction for unenlightened beings. However, if we understand that spiritual development is a continuously evolving process, we may be able to appreciate the many different ways in which people can express their spiritual aspirations and also benefit from the wide range of skillful means which the Buddha has provided. While we can acknowledge that our particular spiritual practice is perhaps suitable for us right now, we can also respect each individual’s spiritual practice as suitable for them as well. And maybe we can also appreciate the possibility that we could learn something from other’s experience and practices. Thus a monastery where people are serious about spiritual practice can become a rich source of learning, appreciation and gratitude, a place where many spiritual aspirations can be accommodated harmoniously and beneficially in spite of the diversity of approaches.
This indeed is the true test of the realization of selflessness.
Over the last few months we have been very fortunate to receive visits from many Sangha. This began in October 2011 with a short visit from Ajahn Kusalo, and was followed by our Kathina ceremony with attendance by Ajahn Chandako, Ajahn Nandhawat and Ven. Mudito from Vimutti Monastery, Auckland. Then towards the end of the year Ajahn Sucitto came for several weeks, together with Ajahn Vajiro and Ajahn Chandako once again.
In early January I traveled to Thailand to attend one of our periodic International Elders Meeting at the International Forest Monastery (Wat Pah Nanachat). Over 70 English-speaking monks and nuns gathered there for many days, including a three-day 'conference' with about 40 Theras (monastics over 10 years seniority) to share experiences, ideas and views. This was a very enriching occasion to catch up with many old friends as well as hear a divergent range of perceptions which were harmoniously accommodated within our larger Sangha.
This meeting was also the occasion of the 20th year since Ajahn Chah's passing so most of us joined in the ceremonies at Ajahn Chah's main monastery, Wat Pah Pong. Every year on the anniversary of Ajahn Chah's passing (January 16th) a week-long session of teaching and practice is organized at Wat Pah Pong. This year some 4,000 white-robed Laity and 700 monks camped out in the monastery forest and followed a daily routine of walking and sitting meditation and listening to Dhamma teachings. The last day is an all-night session of Dhamma talks by various senior teachers. This year Ajahn Liam, the Abbot of Wat Pah Pong, suggested that many of the westerners should give talks. I was fortunate to give the second talk of the evening at 8pm and managed to speak in (passable) Thai for the whole talk. Some of the other senior monks had to wait until 3 or 4 am for their turn, and rely upon a translator.
I returned to NZ towards the end of January together with Ajahn Vajiravamsa, a Sri Lankan monk of 14 years. Shortly afterwards Ajahn Viradhammo arrived for a long visit including teaching an exceptionally well-received 10-day retreat. Initial concerns about catering were pre-empted by an unprecedented outpouring of generosity from many people.
In early March we had a brief visit from Ven. Nyanadipo, a native Wellington monk presently living at Bodhivana Monastery, Melbourne.
In mid-March, after several farewell events, I took my leave of Bodhinyanarama to continue the wandering lifestyle. Fortunately, Ajahn Viradhammo stayed on for another week, and Ajahn Vajiro will be making short visits again in April to provide some continuity until Ajahn Kusalo arrives towards the end of April to take up the role of Abbot. Over this transition time the Sangha of Ajahn Vajiravamsa, Ajahn Dhirapanyo, Ven. Thitavijjo and Anagarika Souphong will remain the same. However, after teaching a retreat in Christchurch in early May, Ajahn Dhirapanyo will be returning to Thailand. The plan is for him to take Anagarika Souphong with him for an intensive training session prior to receiving monk's ordination in July.
While of course the individual Sangha members each contribute their own unique qualities to Bodhinyanarama, what is most important is the continuity of the practice of Dhamma through all forms of change.
With Metta, Ajahn Tiradhammo
As many of you are aware, I have taken my leave of Bodhinyanarama Monastery after 6 and a half years as Abbot. A number of factors have come together at this time, the main one being my failure to obtain a residence permit. Also, my interest to devote more time to meditation rather than monastery administration has encouraged me to seek a change in lifestyle. Fortunately this has coincided with an interest from Ajahn Kusalo to take up the senior position here at Bodhinyanarama, so it seems a fitting time to broaden my horizons.
I have found my time here very rewarding and beneficial, even with the various challenges which such a large and isolated monastery presents. Bodhinyanarama is fortunately blessed with a very generous community of devoted supporters and is continuously receiving newly-interested people. The physical environment is one of the best for a flourishing forest monastery with a suitable mix of easy access and solitary lodgings.
I will miss the many kind and generous people I have come to know over the years. However, the world is becoming increaingly smaller these days so I don't feel that this is entirely a final goodbye.
Anumodana for all your devoted support and blessings in the Triple Gem for your continued well being and growth in Dhamma.
"O Canada, O Canada." A driving line of the national anthem. This country has been home for eight years and specifically Tisarana Monastery for the last five. As I look out the window of my kuti the early morning sun sharply silhouettes the leafless trees against the clear, blue sky. A stainless carpet of snow crystals sparkling in the shifting light brings a sense of wonder and awe. It is twenty degrees below zero outside. The water pot on my wood stove is simmering gently.
We are in the last few weeks of our winter retreat. I have just had two birthdays; one turning sixty and the other turning twenty - one as a body, the other as a monk. Such is the relative nature of life. Depending on where we establish our point of reference so our world is created - I am old or I am young. I have just started a round of 'parties' - birthday celebrations and farewells - and see that when I hold my point of reference in relation to all the wonderful and dear friends I have in Canada, a certain wistful sadness arises in the heart. And then, when I shift the focus to New Zealand, a splendid array of memories and a profusion of possibilities arises. A vibrant mix of emotions, another world, the future. It will never be what I imagine. Of course there is speculation but, for sure, some parts will be better than I imagine and some will be worse. To dwell on parts that I am nervous about brings a sense of dread. To linger on the fantasies of 'guaranteed success' sets up the conditions for disappointment. Both are dukkha.
The present moment is the only time for freedom. I can sit here in my kuti and reflect on the great beauty I have - and then it clouds over. The snow goes all mushy. Looking at the photo of Ajahn Viradhammo on my shrine I feel two emotions; joy, from memories of our time together, and sadness, regarding future separation. The present moment easily encompasses the paradox. I am both sixty and I am twenty. New Zealand is my birth place - on several counts. The birth of this man my mother calls Eric and of this monk many of you call Kusalo. And there is this other chap called Blue who was also 'born' there. Will the real me step forward! None of these persons are really me. This present moment allows 'me' to draw on aspects of them all - or to present an aspect that even 'I' have never met.
Each moment arises anew. Original, authentic, complete. To establish the point of reference on the cusp of this arising is to be beyond the world(s). In this present moment I am not not sixty, not old, not young, not Kiwi not Canadian. There is just this. Suchness.
And so, this blue man monk is organising a plane ticket to New Zealand and shuffling various bits of stuff; being with people and time and teeth and tea (not necessarily in that order). The world. We have the realm of conventional truth, vohara sacca, and the realm of ultimate truth, paramattha sacca. The snow here in Canada is such a great reflection on the instability of the conventional. At twenty below it is so solid, so real, but... I know its just made up of fluffy snowflakes. It will change.
New Zealand? Bodhinyanarama? Windy Wellington? The future? Mostly my thoughts arise through great faith in this tradition. A monastery is a community project. It has the blessings of an ancient teaching and a well-tested lineage. It has a broad lay foundation well established in dana, sila, bhavana (generosity, virtue, meditation). All positive, wholesome ingredients. And, "Yes!!! The building work is finished," the (trying to retire) carpenter cries out with glee. But... well, right, it *is* all changing. And indeed, the work continues. The work of the 'world' and, so much more importantly, the Dhamma work - the craft of the heart. Building that Cathedral sublime. The Truth, the Other Shore, the Everlasting, the Peace, Nibbana. What a work.