Forest Sangha Newsletter April 1989

Serenity, an Open Heart; Chithurst Anniversary
The Four Brahma Viharas; Venerable Munindo
Hammer Wood Progress; Aj, Sucitto & Mike Holmes
Question Time; Venerable Kittisaro
Thrift; Ajahn Sucitto
A Guided Tour of Lay Practice
Inside Freedom

Question Time
The following is taken from a public talk given by Venerable Kittisaro to an audience of approximately 300 people in Bath, 1986.

Question: What does Buddhism teach about love?

Answer: Buddhism teaches that love has to be understood. We attach to an idea of love: love is 'liking' something. Sometimes we use love very loosely and not very carefully; but to really love something in the Buddhist sense means to allow it, to know it as it is, and to be willing to listen and be attentive ... like when a mother loves a child and the child just is the way it is. The mother can be attentive to that child's needs. It doesn't mean that the mother always likes it when the child is screaming and not sleeping in the middle of the night - but she's willing to be with that being. So the Buddha taught - as I understand it - that the purest form of love is actually not fighting something, not struggling against - something, but allowing that thing to live, to be present in ones consciousness; then one can be attentive to it.
     But then you say: "Well, gosh, that seems pretty cold - that won't change the world!" But when you give attention to something without demanding that it be different, that very attentiveness has a profound transforming effect. This is what I found with my own body and illnesses*. For some reason I didn't die and at last now I'm able to go around and meet people. All I could do for many years was actually be with the body, be with the discomfort, be with the pain as it was. I could allow that to be in the mind, just as it was ... just care for it! Doing that can give so much nourishment.
     We find in physics now they don't talk about an "objective observer" and "the observed"; that's out-dated nowadays, Nowadays physicists have come around to the Buddhist way of seeing things as a participant". Just in the mere fact of looking at something, you start to change it. Now if you look at someone you love and you see something you don't like and you try to make them be different, You are actually forcing - and sometimes that can be quite cruel. And so the Buddha would say that hatred can never be stilled by hatred. Hatred or aversion can't cease by fighting it: only through kindness, through not hating something, can a condition then live its own natural life and then die naturally. So hatred has to die a natural death. As soon as we try to kill hatred we actually reproduce it all over the place.

We're talking about harmony, talking about peace, but actually haven't even begun from the very basic level.

Question: What is the Buddhist attitude to social work and engagement in social issues - doing things to help, anything practical? 1s it entirely impractical?

Answer: There's this idea that there's a great gap between action and contemplation. This is what we're beginning to see in physics: that the act of looking at something has a tremendous effect. How you look at the world creates your whole world, your whole attitude - of indignation, of liking it, of not liking it - it's very much from your attitude.
     First of all, the idea that people who are just contemplating don't have any effect on the world: I think that needs to be considered. I know in our monastery when someone is peaceful that too has an effect on the others; when someone is being very irritable all the time, that has an effect on the others.
     Now what about action of the kind that you're talking about? Of course Buddhists are encouraged to be open and see what needs to be done. But don't look too far away too soon. Doing something important can be very energising, we can really get fired up a bout doing something really important. And then the ordinary things: getting along with our family, getting along with our business associates; we can just not have time for that, and then our work becomes very misguided. We're talking about harmony, talking about peace, but actually haven't even begun from the very basic level.
     So I say: yes, as one meditates and learns to get a perspective on things then one learns to do whatever one can do. Depending on your own abilities, your own situation, you dedicate your life to being of benefit to the whole. And so as a Buddhist monk I have certain things that I can do. I myself don't go around growing food for other people and things like that - though I think that's a good thing to do -but my job as a Buddhist monk is to learn to live very simply on one meal a day, content with having three simple robes, to rely on whats offered, and to be always available to be interrupted, to be available for whoever comes.... That's just one tiny cog in this whole cosmos.

Each person in the Buddhist Way, when they start to contemplate what Right Speech is, what Right livelihood is, when they start to find from their own heart what is the most appropriate way - they can be of benefit to the whole. While doing that they don't ignore being mindful and attentive, because that mindfulness will always see that what they do is kept in balance and is not misguided by Wrong View.
     So its a slow process maybe; but it encourages each being to grow up, to use the wisdom that they have, and to open up from being just concerned with this body or this little family, or this country, or this political party - to just keep opening up to the whole. If you take sides with one little group, it can lead to so much trouble - but the open mind just senses

Question: Is it really a question of understanding yourself before you can help anybody else?

Answer: There's a problem in the logic in that. When you write it down in a sentence, it makes it sound like you have to do all that selfunderstanding first and then -after you've become a Buddha, or after you've become an arahant-then you can go out and help people; and before thet you can't do anything. Really it doesn't work out that way, both aspects work together all the time. Like myself: I felt really good going around helping all the monks do yoga, helping my teacher, running around always doing something; but then when I became ill and found myself unable to do anything, I was totally incapable of really being at peace with things as they were. There was no real Wisdom, and a lot of my action came out of desperation - desperation actually tainted and misguided some pf what I was doing.
     So this is why there's always a balance in Buddhism, and some time for real quietude. How much time one spends being quiet is up to each person -a minute, or even just five minutes of sitting down and being still, not doing anything and just noticing what's racing through your mind, is useful. Then you can notice the pull of what you think you have to do: the guilt of thinking you're being selfish - or whatever there is. Just to get those feelings in perspective, just to see that those are feelings which are running you around all the time, makes you someone who is at least more in a position of understanding life.
     If we wait around until we're perfectly enlightened - I tell you what, I wouldn't be here tonight talking to all of you people! You'd have to wait until the cows come home, and they wouldn't be coming home! Because there's always another doubt that comes in ... maybe I'm not ready, yet.
     When I think: "Am I ready yet?", if I'm meditating, I'm seeing that as a thought right now,* and seeing that thought has a beginning -"Am I ready yet?" - and that thought has an end; and noticing that when that thought ends there's peace in the mind. And when I can see that the thought is a thought which comes and goes, I can see it as a changing condition in the mind. I don't have to make a problem out of it any more, I don't have to wait for the time when there's no more doubting thoughts. I just know its a doubting thought and I can offer what I'm able to. So what we can do immediatelywith just one moment of waiting and of being patient with pain-this in itself brings forth an energy of equanimity and of patience.
     So we start with the little things. If we want to be like Jesus and we want to save the world, that's fine. but where have we got to start? The Buddha started wth the little things, he said let's be honest, climbing the tree from the bottom, you don't jump into Nibbana, you don't jump into God: you first learn to be patient with a headache. And then one up mindfulness in this present moment.

what do you think?

sounds OK to me.

Question: Is it going to lead to a universal impracticality if we take up Buddhism? ... How do you feel about going into our technological world and making the changes that are needed?

Answer: One thing: it really isn't for me to make proclamations of what Buddhists think and feel - because there's no such statement. This whole Teaching is a path towards Awakening. Each of us is sitting here from a different position in this room, each of us has a different perspective. and for me to tell others what they should do and what they should see is difficult.
     As a general reflection, though, I feel that we have tremendous power now to manipulate things and to create. We have the ability to create all sorts of things through science-, and we're beginning to understand some of the laws of how materials (what we call the aggregates of form). how these operate. We have great power to change, to move things, to move mountains, to dig up the earth: send people to the Moon, to blow up the planet. We have tremendous abilities to produce-, in fact our whole language and society there's a lot of emphasis on being productive.
     Well, the religious impulse realizes that one has gone too far into the world of manipulating and changing. in the world of making life like we want it to be. There's an idea that if We just eradicate enough diseases with this marvellous science then we'll be disease-free, pain-free, trouble-free, and then we'll be happy. So that's a materialistic extreme. And when we go to an extreme we're always seeing life how it could be. through concepts. There's a tremendous power in that because desire the desire of wanting to make it how we want it to be - is a power that's able to create things. But sometimes it can become very cruel: although we have tremendous power to manipulate life. We still have hardly moved anywhere in our ability to get along with one another - we're still blowing each other up, fighting, getting separated, misunderstanding each other.
     So, many times the religious impulse tells us how to appreciate things. and talks about opening the heart Now when you're a child and you go out onto the Seashore and you look at this vastness, your eyes just go open: wind is blowing in, thousands of waves and the roar of the sea as it's rushing in, and the mind has no wag of trying to manipulate that - or at least, mine doesn't. It's too Vast when Someone's mind is open, you're just listening and watching. And in that state, the state of wonder, the State of awe,'the State of communion, one is actually appreciating. Now that's the state of love, the State of really being able to be with something as it is, whether it's horrible or pleasant. And in that state one is actually a part of the whole thing, one is connected to the whole. But then that can be an extreme too! If you're attached to just wanting to be in a State of awe all the time well. what are you going to do about all that needs to be done? If wisdom together with the appreciation and wonder, then action arises out of wisdom. So with this creation, understanding will be rooted in clear-seeing and in compassion.
     There's nothing good or evil about any of these things, be it medicine or nuclear technology. But it's the human minds that are using these things that have become divorced from reality many times. And so, rather than make proclamations about what people should do in the active sense, I'd encourage everyone to open up to life ... and then we start to see that I feel pain, and I don't like pain, and we realize that other beings feel pain and they don't like to have it. Then compassion starts to arise in which you "Suffer with" - you actually vibrate with Someone else. You realize that they're Suffering, and then you're just not inclined any more to do things that hurt other beings. But if you just tell someone "don't do that"; "be compassionate", your whole voice is one of force, one of issuing proclamations, Then you might get people to act the way you want them to, but there still would be avijja, there still would be ignorance. So the Buddha taught that the Source of the whole problem is ignorance. We point at that, and out of awareness naturally starts to come forth compassion, being one with the whole.

* Ven. Kittisaro almost died of typhoid fever during his initial training in Thailand. When he returned to England he experienced a three-year period of serious illness, and eventually was diagnosed as having Crohn's Disease. Since that time he has been learning acommodate and work with this condition. suffering wherever it happens to be and then makes an effort to alleviate that. Yes, its a crime that the world has so much suffering in it now and that we have so much power-yet we haven't alleviated a lot of the basic problems: that's very unfortunate. But the problem won't be solved by trying to force people to do it. It'll be solved by giving attention to it and each person doing what they can.