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Transcribing the oral tradition...
Nagabodhi, London, UK
Candradasa, FBA Team
Viriyalila, Portsmouth, USA
Eric, FBA Team
Candradasa, FBA Team
Viveka, San Francisco, USA
Candradasa, FBA Team
Mary, FBA Team
anything in particular, that the mere act of being together being aware of each other, allowing
that sort of existential confrontation, existential meeting, to take place, that awareness of each
other as individuals who Go for Refuge, was the whole meaning and purpose of the meeting
and we need do nothing else. And we decided that we would try between us to keep that very
much to the fore. And we would keep it to the fore by emphasising silence. I am not
suggesting that everybody else has to do it this way, I am trying to illustrate the fundamental
principle by describing the way in which we carry out our Order meeting. We see silence as
the context within which it is most easy for us to bring about that mutual awareness of each
other as Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels. So we try to keep that alive. We try to make
sure that whoever we do do emerges out of silence and that when that is done silence comes
back again. So that instead of rushing from topic to topic, people jumping over each other to
get in the next word, we try to let silence emerge and re-emerge.
To some extent this came out of the experience that a lot of us had at Order meetings with
Bhante, and indeed of our experience of daily contact with Bhante. There is quite a lot of
silence if you live with Bhante. And in the Order meetings we used to have with Bhante, I
remember when I was quite newly ordained going to order meetings with Bhante, there is sort
of terrifying silence, a silence that was fathomless in depth and was as infinite as the sky, and
in which you felt your own fragility and the sort of delicacy of your own hold on the spiritual
life. Not that Bhante was at all threatening, not that there was any imposition upon one, it was
just that a silence opened up which was vaster than the sort of silences that one generally
experienced. And out of that would often come some very interesting revelation, discussion,
and so on.
So many of us had participated in that sort of silence with Bhante and we felt that we wanted
to try to work on our Chapter from that basis so that in the silence we would become much
more fully aware of ourselves and of each other as individuals who Go for Refuge to the
Three Jewels, and whatever happened comes out of that silence, out of that mutual
awareness, and merges back into it when it is finished, when it has severed its purpose. So we
try not to lose a sense of that existential meeting as individuals who Go for Refuge to the
Three Jewels. And by and large we are reasonably successful with that. It all depends, it
depends how conscious we are, it depends what we have all been doing, but we manage
generally speaking to keep some sense of that deeper meeting. And of course different people
come into it or out of it in different ways, but generally we maintain that sense of the
fundamental bedrock of our meeting as just individuals who Go for Refuge. And we say, we
have never actually challenged this yet, that we would be prepared just to sit there in full
silence throughout the evening, if nothing emerged nothing would emerge and we would just
be together experiencing each other as Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels.
Laying the Groundwork
So how do we bring that about? Well, I suppose you say in a way you don’t do anything.
That is the whole point, isn’t it, really? It is sort of Zen-like. As soon as you start to make an
effort you kind of spoil it, as soon as you become too conscious about it it disappears. It is
something that has to emerge. But really it should happen whenever Order members meet. To
some extent perhaps it does happen whenever Order members meet. If we are to some extent
conscious of each as Order members, that is as individuals who Go for Refuge to the Three
Jewels within the context of this spiritual community, well, we do become aware of each
other in a deeper way. But nonetheless we do need to work at creating it, at extending it, at
deepening it, at making it more continuous.
And I think at least part of the means for this is preparation. So that you think of the Order
meeting in advance, it just doesn’t sort of turn up and you are surprised to find that you are in
an Order meeting. Which is what seems to happen to quite a lot of people. One actually sort
of contemplates the Order meeting for maybe a day or two beforehand, one considers that it
is coming up. Not thinking what to say or preparing your sort of statements. Maybe things are
pressing, that urge to be said in the Order meeting when it comes, but the main point is to be
aware of the Order meeting as coming, as the situation in which you try to meet up with the
members of your Chapter in as deep and effective existential way as you can. So you prepare
yourself, you begin to contact that experience, perhaps recalling previous experience of it,
and opening yourself up to it as it approaches.
If your Chapter meeting isn’t very much of an experience of that kind, well, you need to
begin to try to make it into that. And you make it into that not by manipulating everybody
else, not by telling everybody else how they should be, or complaining about the meeting, or
anything of that kind, you bring it about by having that attitude yourself. If you are
dissatisfied with the way in which the meeting goes, you can change that by going into the
meeting with a consciousness that you are an Order member with other Order members, and
by trying to make that consciousness more firm in your mind, more present to you, deeper in
your experience. And if you go into the meeting with that attitude, regardless of what
anybody else does, you will have an experience of that kind of meeting. Of course, the more
others reciprocate the deeper that experience will be.
It seemed to me in discussing with various Chapters at Madhyamaloka, the progress of their
Chapters, that we usually put too much stress on how other people perform in the Chapter.
And when people discuss what they consider to be a dysfunctional Chapter they usually are
talking about how other people are. But actually I think a Chapter is, you might say, as strong
as the strongest member. We usually think of a group situation as being as strong as the
weakest member, but I think that with a Chapter you can rely on the fact that if anybody
approaches the meeting in the sort of way I have been indicating others will respond. This is
the thing one discovers about Order meetings, although they sometimes, ‘they’, behave in
beastly ways and really don’t live up to what they ought to live up to, unlike ‘us’, if you
consistently approach them in an honest and sincere way on the basis of the commitment that
you have in common, they will respond. In some cases with particularly intractable people it
takes several years, but it does happen. Excuse my cynical humour. But actually the fact is
that usually with Order members, if you do approach them in the right and honest sort of
way, well, a response will come, and become before too long. And especially I think in the
context of an Order meeting in which everybody is conscious it is supposed to be some sort
of important experience for us, I think that if you approach it in the way that I have been
indicating, others will reciprocate. And even if they don’t, well, you can get what you can get
out of it by approaching it in this way.
So we create the Order meeting, we create this kind of atmosphere by approaching things in
that way ourselves. However others respond, you can move it in that direction for yourselves.
Others will pick up on your approach to it.
Awareness of One’s Own Going for Refuge
So what then takes place? What happens if you approach the meeting in this sort of way? If
you see the meeting as just a mutual awareness by Order members, by the members, of each
other as individuals who Go for Refuge? What happens? Well, it is fairly obvious. If you are
aware that you are with a group of people all of whom share the same ideal that you have, all
of whom are committed to it as fully and deeply as you are, if not more, or at least who
approximate to the kind of commitment that you have, well, the first thing that is likely to
happen is that you are likely to become much more aware of yourself as an individual who
Goes for Refuge. So you will become much more vividly aware of your own relationship to
the Three Jewels, of the commitment that you have to the Three Jewels, and its place in your
life. You will be conscious of your own commitment with all its strengths and weaknesses,
you will be conscious of the extent to which you fulfill and do not fulfill that commitment.
That will all become immediately present to you as you sit there aware of the significance of
the meeting and the purpose that lies behind it and of the presence of each other member of
the meeting. You will become aware of your inspiration, you will become aware of your
remorse, you will become aware of your insight and understanding, you will become aware
of your confusion and darkness. Everything will become present to you, you will become
aware of where you stand in relation to the ideal to which you have dedicated your life, you
will be brought back to that moment of your ordination when you made that deep
commitment and you will be aware ...