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17 million words and counting!
Sangharakshita, Birmingham, UK
Vicki, Seattle, USA
Padmatara, San Francisco, USA
Coleen, FBA Team
Viriyalila, Portsmouth, USA
Candradasa, FBA Team
Vajratara, Sheffield, UK
... off for walks, and... 'not me! What's wrong with me? How come I'm missing
But I realised as time went on that it's not quite like that. It is not something you can just
sort of grab and have – you know – that others have got it and you can have your share
immediately. It is something we have to work at. It takes patience, perseverance, care, a
readiness to learn from our mistakes and clumsinesses and so on.
And it happens. You work at friendship: it grows, it deepens. I've got friendships in the
Order and movement now that go back over twenty years, and they are going to be there
for the rest of my life, but they haven't just happened. It has taken time, it has taken
patience, it has taken effort at working at those friendships – the vertical, those I look up
to; my friends and peers; those I have befriended and shared my experience with.
So then creating Sangha, creating the Order, means learning to live with an awareness of
others: learning to be kind, unselfish, ethical.
Again, this is a very practical matter. It is not an abstract quality that you sort of polish up
and carry around in your briefcase. It is actually something very practical: it's down to
things like doing your share of the washing up and shopping in the community flat where
you live, and just responding to what's going on around you and what needs to be done.
Or on a weekend like this – you know – just noticing the cups and rubbish that get left
around the retreat centre and not having the attitude, 'it's somebody else's problem'. If
there's something that needs to be done, well, one can do it. It is that very practical sense
of other people and their needs, and a readiness to respond in a very down-to-earth way.
It means learning to give what we can give of ourselves: it might be money, possessions,
time, energy. Again, here we can just ask ourselves a simple question: how much easier
do we find it to bring out a five pound note and buy ourselves and a friend coffee and
cakes, than to put five pounds in the Dana bowl? Just a simple question like that... I think
it is worth sort of mirroring back and just looking at, 'how are we getting on in
developing that open-handed ability to give?'
It means going beyond a protective, precious, self-centred way of being. It means putting
ourselves out when it is not most convenient – you know, when we get a phone call from
a friend who is ill, and we've got a busy day planned, and we just really don't want to
have to go and look after them and do some shopping for them or whatever, and it would
be very easy to sort of say, 'oh well, hope you get better soon...' and not make that offer to
put ourselves out. It means actually putting ourselves out when it's not what we feel like,
not what we really want to do, but it's clear it needs to be done.
It means learning to confess – not hiding our shortcomings and trying to keep up a
convincing spiritual front. Really acknowledging our faults quite honestly and openly,
making amends and moving on. This is something we need to learn – the art of
confession, the spiritual practice of confession – and it is something to practice. Initially
we might be quite clumsy, quite reticent, but it is something we can learn by just doing it,
and in that way discover, again, the difference it makes both to us and to our connection
Creating Sangha means learning open, honest communication; becoming more and more
transparent to our brothers. It means no longer having a secret life. Again, we can ask
ourselves: 'Are there secret areas in our life? Are there things going on in our life we just
don't talk to others about; that we don't talk about in our Going For Refuge group, to our
friends?' Again – a question to hold up as a mirror.
It means learning appropriateness: when to speak; when to keep our counsel. It means
learning how to deal with difficulties and conflicts; learning how to contain our reactions
and anger so they are not destructive, but to be able to say what needs to be said at the
right time, when it is going to be really useful and helpful.
It means letting go of hurt and resentment; learning how to forgive – remembering that
forgiveness isn't conditional on other people admitting their fault; it's actually to do with
something that comes from us. Again, it's something to learn. I remember some years
back having a difficulty with another Order member, and someone in my chapter saying,
'you've just got to forgive them and let it go,' and actually I remember thinking, 'it's not as
simple as that.' Yes, one makes a decision to forgive, and to try and change things, but it's
not as if you flick a switch and that's it – you know – there are all sorts of situations
where we've had difficulties with somebody, where our buttons are pressed – the old
hurts, the old feelings come up again – and we have to learn how to work with them
creatively again and again when they come up, so that they don't take us over; so that we
don't feed them.
So, again, forgiveness is something we have to learn. We have to learn how to forgive,
how to keep on forgiving. It's not something where we can just say, 'ok, I'll do it.' There is
something in so many of these things that we have to discover the real art of.
And together with all these there is an ongoing working on our mental states: eradicating
the unskilful, preventing the arising of unskilful states that haven't already arisen,
developing the skilful states of mind that haven't yet arisen, and maintaining those that
have arisen – in and out of meditation. Having a regular meditation practice with a strong
element of Metta Bhavana in it; strengthening both our own clarity of mind and the
quality of our connection with others; and learning how to engage our heart in Puja and
devotional practice, so that opening of the heart can flow over into our connections with
others. Clarifying our thinking, clarifying our views, through study and open-hearted
discussion of Dharma. All these things feed into our practice of creating the Order,
creating the Sangha.
Looked at this way we can begin to see how the work of self-transcendence and the work
of creating the Order go hand in hand. We can perhaps then begin also to see the place of
the institutions of the Order and the movement. It becomes clear that chapter meetings –
or, for you, at the moment, 'Going For Refuge' groups – are not optional extras; they are
not just a pleasant way to spend a Sunday evening with like-minded people. Rather, these
gatherings are a crucial working ground in our spiritual life where we can focus and
intensify so many aspects of our practice.
So, to living with others in communities... even short term, if you've got a family, you
can still share in community on retreat, on Kula gatherings and, in time, on Order
weekends, and just realising the importance of having that sort of experience of
community regularly, even if it's only short term because you have family or other
Working with others in a Right Livelihood business – again, to be clear, this is not just
about a pleasant working environment and making money to fund the Dharma; there is a
vision there in the Order and in the movement that goes far beyond that. Again, it is a
very important and significant working ground for the creation of Sangha in all these
different dimensions I have been speaking about.
It is worth noting, as well, the fact that our communities, our businesses, our activities,
for those more committed as single sex... you know, just being very clear that this
definitely isn't just a quirk of the English. It is not just to do with the 'public school
influence' of certain senior Order members... [LAUGHTER] ...it is actually to do with the
intensification of our spiritual practice that is possible in an environment free of the
sexual and psychological polarisation that takes place, usually, when men and women are
together. Again, it is all to do with taking every opportunity to deepen our practice; our
connectedness with others.
The best of our communities, in particular, do continue to provide one of the main
spiritual cutting edges of the movement. So, even if you are not able to live in a
community, work in a Team-Based Right-Livelihood business. You know, you should be
grateful for them and those who put their lives into them. We wouldn't have anything like
the Order and the movement we have, without them, and it is really important to
appreciate the part they play in making our Order and movement what it is.
In all this there is something else very important to remember. The Order isn't just a
fixed, worked-out thing that you join. The Order is an unfolding organism that you take
on to help create and be a part of. Moving towards the Order, towards ordination, means
becoming increasingly a part of it, increasingly a part of this living network of trust and
friendship. And it means taking full responsibility for your part in it: giving of your best;
working to unfold the best in yourself so that the Order itself is an increasingly effective
force for good in the world.
I am starting to touch here on something of great importance, ...