by Ajahn Viradhammo given at Bodhinyanarama on 13 December
evening. It is nice to see so many people here to use this
lovely space to sit quietly and contemplate Dhamma. We have
just finished a ten day retreat with about thirty lay people
and the monastic community. It is a privilege to live without
competition, worldly things or the usual struggle of life. At
times like these, one can just observe the way things are. One
sees spaciousness, and a trusting and moral environment where
silence is encouraged and the beauty of nature is present. To
be in this environment is a great privilege.
What one develops in a period of time like that is a
strong sense of community and of relating to people. There's a
common activity because the life of community is cooperative
not competitive. There is no 'I want to get to nibbana before
you and if you get ahead of me I'm going to trip you.' I know
that if I work on myself, practice in this particular way,
live morally and uphold the principles of the retreat and the
teaching, then that encourages you to do the same thing. And
if you do that too it encourages me. There's a reciprocity of
encouragement, affection and aspiration.
This of course is something that is often lacking in a
society which is geared to competition, money and ease, where
life is a vicarious existence of watching rugby games or other
forms of entertainment. Community life is I think an art form
which is being much lost these days. It is hard to do if one
has been conditioned to individuality. I certainly was. I had
my own room. My brother had his own room. I had my records. He
had his records. If he touched my records he'd be finished.
The life of community is something that I have learned by
being a Buddhist monk. As you know, we chant 'Sangha vandeh /
I revere the Sangha'. In Buddhism 'Sangha vandeh/ I revere the
Sangha' is seen to be the 'Sangha of Enlightened Beings'.
Where do you find one of those these days? But if you bring
Sangha to the ordinariness of life, you contemplate community.
To me community implies a sense of affection for one's
place, for the trees, for the water one uses, for the air one
breathes, for the food one eats, for governance, for the
street one uses, for one's neighbour, for the shoemaker, for
the greengrocer and so on. A Buddhist culture implies the
sense of developing community by being responsible for all
these very real things.
To live and work in community requires us to give. One of
the great virtues of a Buddhist culture is dana, giving.
Sometimes there can be a form of spiritual materialism, where
giving is linked to a better material status in the next life.
We need to think about what dana, or generosity, actually
implies. What does metta, the idea of kindness and compassion
imply other than being nice to my dog or my kids? Like
community, metta also implies a deep commitment to affection
at a very real and pervasive level. Affection for one's roads,
for the air. For New Zealand. This monastery of course brings
that up. When you come to this environment you notice the
affection; affection for architecture, for workmanship, for a
path which is laid out with beautiful stones you can walk
along, There is also a sense of responsibility for the overall
harmony of the community. For me to see it's not for you to
make me happy but rather for me to try to participate with
affection in your life, my own life and in our community life
in order to create harmony. That's what an elder does.
The school of Buddhism this monastery is a part of is
called 'Theravada' which means 'The Way of the Elders'. Of
course traditionally that means the elder members of the
ordained Sangha who have much wisdom and so on. All of us are
moving towards that because one of the developments of a
spiritual life is a movement to maturity and the taking of
responsibility for one's community. That includes the family
and all our associations.
Often the problems of society are pronounced in terms of a
global or national problem. But there are no national
problems, just individual problems. It's always individuals
disagreeing or individuals fighting. That can be a national
problem if the whole national psyche is geared towards that.
But the solutions are always individual. They are about you
and I working together with each other. People often say 'well
I'm gonna wait for the other guy to recycle the plastic and
then I'll start'. But why wait? Why not begin oneself?
The Buddhist teaching around compassion and empathy and
affectionate participation in life puts up strong mirrors. We
try to have universal empathy but it can be a challenge. The
first monk I met said to me 'don't worry about the parts of
Buddhism you agree with. It is the bits you find difficult to
follow which are the tough ones'. These are like mirrors which
present a challenge to the mind. So if I have a disagreement
with someone or if I hate the polluters and I dwell in
continual hatred for even that which is evil, then the
Buddha's teaching says 'no that's not my teaching. You can
call yourself a Buddhist but that's not what I'm teaching'.
Then we can look inwards and ask 'why can't I live up to those
high standards, what is it about my life that I am unable to
do that?' Participation in the difficulties of the community
as a spiritual practice is the great challenge. To use the
committee meeting as your monastery or to use your adversary
as your teacher is a way of introducing spiritual practice
into problem solving. This is very rewarding. It's hard work.
It's much easier to slope off and say 'well let them do it I'm
going to watch the ball game tonight'. Sometimes we need to do
that but that kind of participation in community where we
think we'll let someone else take care of the trees or the
water, doesn't bring many rewards.
Sometimes Buddhism can seem to involve an attitude of
'leave me alone I'm trying to get enlightened'. Even metta
practice can be like that. You can be sitting there saying
'may all beings be well, may they be free from suffering',
when someone interrupts your meditation and you snap at them.
It's easier to idealise universal compassion than to actually
live it. To be in a relationship with someone who really
presses your buttons and to be aware of that is a spiritual
practice. Now that doesn't mean that we don't feel alienation,
resentments, anger or fear. These are natural conditions of
the human heart. But to take alienation or resentment as my
refuge or as something that I pursue, of course defeats
community. It also defeats my own spiritual practice.
So what does a Buddhist have faith in? A Buddhist has
faith in goodness and in virtue. You might say I didn't have
to become a monk to do that. But to witness that which is
unwholesome and unskilful in an affectionate way is the
Buddhist path. Because we have both in our hearts; that which
is divisive and that which is unifying. We have both because
we're human beings and to have affection for one's inner
worlds means to take responsibility for the whole business.
But we don't have to take refuge in it all.
Sometimes when we do metta bhavana practices of loving
kindness we begin with ourselves and our loved ones, then we
radiate that love outwards to more neutral kinds of people and
then we try to bring up into consciousness beings we think are
our enemies. That can be hard because it's tied into memory.
It's very interesting how memory works. When you mention
someone who has harmed you, your memory pattern goes right to
that doesn't it? To not pursue or feed that memory pattern is
a way of ending the whole sense of alienation and separation.
The monastery I come from has about fifty people resident,
often another fifty on retreat and maybe another hundred for a
meal. So it's a pretty big outfit. Sometimes you get a clique
of whingers. They're usually the behind the woodshed smoker
types, complaining that the Abbot talks too much or that the
monks took all the cakes again. They usually walk out the door
and are never seen again. That's not how you form community.
When one hears that kind of divisive speech, maybe we can
listen without buying into it. We can say 'yeah it sounds like
you've got a problem'. To disagree is fine but we want to
avoid feeding that continual tendency of the human mind to
To take responsibility in community for right speech is
again one of these mirrors that the Buddha's teaching is
presenting to us. Right speech is speech which is in concord,
brings harmony, is truthful, beautiful and according to
Dhamma. Wrong speech is speech which is divisive, untruthful,
ugly, cruel, harsh or swearing and speech which is just
foolish. If we're really working with Buddhism as a spiritual
teaching then when our speech enters into disharmony and
divisiveness we'll awaken to that because we're taking this
training seriously. We'll say 'why do I need to do that? Why
do I need to create disharmony?' Inherent in this is a joyous
awakening to the peacefulness of relating and to intimacy.
Intimacy isn't just about a relationship between two people.
It's more than that. It's about non-alienation with and
affection for all sentient beings. It's not an easy thing to
do but that noble aspiration is worth it because it does bring
joy. Not the joy of consumerism or the easy way out. It's a
deeper sense of nobility in the human heart.
Community takes a lot of work. I've lived in community for
25 years and the image Ajahn Sumedho uses is of fifty rough
green stones in one of these polishing machines. They come out
all nice and shiny and you can buy them in the shop. The
process is grinding. It's like being with someone you find
irksome and with whom it's ok to disagree, but taking
responsibility for that. Or like being with someone you find
intimidating and working with that. It is a kind of a grinding
which requires time, stability and commitment.
We have to ask ourselves why there is so much depression
and suicide in our society. For me it seems the problem is
that we don't have community and that we don't relate in a
non-alienating way. We relate in a competitive way. We cut the
trees down in order to use the land. We become alienated from
our own bodies and they become bloated, overfed things that we
have to carry around. What is a body? It is one of the
environments we live in. What does it feel like? What kind of
food does it need? A life of affection for your community of
emotional beings, for what you're putting into your body and
into your mind is a more complete way of living your life.
But what is the affectionate relationship to the emotions?
Even within a spiritual practice we can have a cruel self
hating attitude towards the very real difficulties that we
face. We expect ourselves to love, or forgive. The spiritual
part of community also includes an affectionate participation
in one's own inner being and an understanding of one's own
emotions. Within that inner affection or inner awareness one
sees all kinds of limitations. One sees that one does resent,
get angry and have fears.
This is a more complete, integrated way of living your
life. A life lived for a weekend of golf doesn't make sense to
me. To push one's body hard in some way and then have a few
hours of pleasure a week seems to me to be disassociated and
alienated from life. But a life of immediacy where we're
living moment by moment in this kind of affectionate and
caring way makes a lot of sense and has very good results.
This can lend a new quality to one's existence, because
the process of existence is just as important as any other
goal we might have. The doing is important because the doing
involves affection for all the little things.
If the means are right the ends will be right. If the way
I'm living this moment now is not conjoined with affection
then how can I have affection later on? If my spiritual
contemplations are bound by self hatred and self judgment and
put downs of myself and all that, how can there be
affectionate love at the end of the road? There can't be. It
just doesn't work. The law of karma doesn't work that way. So
this life of Buddhism is a life of responsibility, maturity
and affection. A life of caring for oneself and for one's
I wish you well in your own spiritual journey and I hope
this place is helpful for you in this way of developing
community in your own spiritual life. Thank you for your