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Launch of the New Mitrata

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by Sangharakshita

... expect anybody to do this. If you still want to go and shopping around, and just come here sometimes we are quite happy that you should do that. But a Mitra is by definition someone who is no longer doing this. Someone who is definitely spiritually affiliated to the FWBO or to Buddhism through the FWBO and only to Buddhism and only to the FWBO.

Someone who has really made up his or her mind that Buddhism as presented by the FWBO is the Path that they want to follow more and more intensively. So first of all a Mitra fulfils the condition or the principle if you like that he or she is no longer shopping around.

When secondly a Mitra keeps up a regular, even though perhaps modest, meditation practise.

Most people come along to a Centre like this in order to learn meditation. The Centre in fact calls itself the Norwich Meditation Centre and that might have been the point of contact for quite a number of you. You wanted to learn meditation. Perhaps you weren*t to begin with all that interested in or concerned with Buddhism. You heard about meditation, you wanted to meditate and you heard that meditation is taught here so along you came. So a Mitra keeps up a regular meditation practice, either the Mindfullness of Breathing or the Metta Bhavana or even both. Now it*s important to recognize here to emphasize here that a Mitra is not expected to do much meditation. It*s not a question of going in for, for meditation marathons. A regular practise is much more important. And not only that, it*s very important that you enjoy the practise of meditation. And if you are sitting there hour after hour with aching knee-joints and an aching back and just not able to concentrate and all sorts of wandering thoughts that*s no good at all. It might be a very noble effort but it*s hardly meditation. So it*s important that you should enjoy meditation and therefor so long as you are a Mitra or so long as you are a novice in the spiritual life, whether a Mitra or not, it*s important that you should be able to enjoy your meditation, you must look forward to your meditation. So keep it short but regular. When I say short I mean 20 minutes is quite sufficient if you can do it every day at least once. If it*s 30 minutes so much the better. If it*s 40, better still. But don*t think you*ve got to sit for a long time every day. Just sit for a short time but as I*ve said keep it regular and learn to enjoy it.

Because if you know it is going to be short well even if your back is aching or your knees are aching it won*t bother you to much. You*ll know that the agony will soon be over and you can just concentrate on the meditation. But it is so important that you learn to enjoy the meditation. Not only because, well, meditation is enjoyable so if you are not enjoying it you are not really meditating in the full sense, but because certainly in the West, certainly for those with a Christian background, religion and enjoyment are not things which are usually associated. We usually associate religion with gloom and despondency, not to say despair or discomfort. So you*ve got to sort of undo this Christian conditioning of associating religion with all that is gloomy and difficult and depressing and unpleasant and sad. You*ve got to start thinking of religion and spiritual life certainly as far as Buddhism is concerned as something which is happy and joyful. Yes there are difficulties, yes there are problems, yes you have to put in a lot of effort, yes you do suffer sometimes. But the overall note is joy. One might even say the overall note is enjoyment. If you are not enjoying yourself one might even say you aren*t really a Buddhist. If aren*t really enjoying yourself in the best sense, if you aren*t happier then the next man who is not a Buddhist well, what*s the point one might say almost of being a Buddhist. You should live happily as the Buddhist disciples in the Dhammapada declare that they are living, living happily among those who are not happy. You should know or I*m sure you do know these verses very well. So this applies especially perhaps to your meditation. Enjoy your meditation. If you are not enjoying it something has gone subtly wrong. So make sure you that you do enjoy it. And that usually means keeping the period relatively short, so that it is something that you look forward to. Because if you start enjoying it then you*ll want to prolong your sitting quite naturally. I Mean that*s the natural human tendency: if you are enjoying something very much, you don*t want it to come to an end. So if you are going to start enjoying your meditation well, all your problems are solved in a sense.

Because you*ll be just sitting there, I mean apart from things like alarms ringing and you know, children demanding breakfast and things like that, you*ll be sitting there enjoying your meditation and because you are enjoying it you*ll just want to prolong it quite naturally quite spontaneously from 20 minutes to 30, even 40, till your knees start really aching. So learn to enjoy your meditation. That*s really important. If you can do that well, you*re really staring of so to speak on the right foot. So Mitras meditate every day, regularly, at least twenty, either Metta Bhavana or Mindfulness, whichever you find the more agreeable.

And then thirdly the Mitra helps out around the Centre. Around the centre there are so many little jobs to be done. Little jobs take time even though they are little jobs. If you can help you know., just by doing some of these little jobs thereby perhaps releasing an Order Member to do other things which only he or she can do then that really does help very much. There are all sorts of little jobs. One doesn*t have to think very much or look very far: jobs like making the tee or doing a bit of typing or delivering some letters or repairing something. There are all sorts of jobs of this sort around the Centre all the time, just needing to be done. And of course the Mitra helps support the Centre financially to the best of his or her abilities. Then fourtthly, and in some ways this is the most important of all though it comes at the end. Fourthly, the Mitra keeps in touch with Order Members. When I say keeps in touch I don*t mean just in the touch. I mean something much more then that. A Mitra develops in fact spiritual friendship or tries to develop spiritual friendship with Order Members. And in addition to that as a sort of supplement Mitras try to develop Spiritual Friendships among themselves. But it is most important that Mitras try to develop Spiritual Friendships with Order Members. After all you can*t have much contact with the Order as a whole, with the Western Buddhist Order as a whole even though there are only I thinks it is a 187 Order Members at present. You can only have real contact, deeper contact, personal contact with just a few people. So concentrate as it were on at least one or two of the Order Members attached to the centre and try to develop a Spiritual Friendship with them. Because that will not only help you personally but by means of that Spiritual Friendship with Order Members you*ll come to know more about the Movement, more about the Order as it were from the inside. And if you of course yourself as a Mitra are thinking in terms of what we call Going for Refuge, committing yourself to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, then of course you*ll need to know Order Members very well and they will need to know you very well too. Because you*re asking when you ask for Ordination for nothing less then to be admitted so to speak to their ranks, to be included in well I might say the Magic Circle of the Order. And those who are within the Magic Circle of the Order know it*s really very magical indeed. So the closer you can get to Order Members, the closer you can get to the Order. The closer you can get to the Order, the closer you can get to the Dharma, because Order Members are practising the Dharma and perhaps they are practising it more intensively then you are. And the closer you can get to the Dharma the closer you can get to the Buddha because the Dharma is the Buddha*s message the Buddha*s communication. The Dharma is the Buddha as it were speaking to you from all those centuries ago. Well, to say all those centuries ago, speaking to you as it were here and now, beyond space and beyond time. So Mitras develop spiritual friendships with Order members and one might even say, one might go so far as to say that Spiritual Friendship is the most important thing in the Spiritual Life.

Most of you must have heard those famous and oft quoted words of the Buddha to the effect that Spiritual Friendship was the whole of the holy life. You must have heard how Ananda once came to the Buddha and said to the Buddha:*Lord, I think that Spiritual Friendship is one half of the Holy Life, as much as that." Ananda must have thought that he was praising Spiritual Friendship very highly indeed. But then the Buddha said according to the rather stilted English translation: `Say not so, Ananda.* (Before, he said: `Don*t say that, Ananda.* He said: `Kalyana Mitrata is the whole of the Brahmacarya, the Holy Life, the Ideal Life, the Spiritual Life, the Sublime Life, its the whole of it, not just the half.* Quite recently this sort of lesson, this sort of instruction was reinforced for some of us. Quite recently some of us were studying the Megya Sutta of the Udana. Some of you might have heard of the Megya Sutta of the Udana. Megya is the name of a monk in the Buddha*s day. He seems to have been a young monk. He was a monk who had gone forth from the Buddha*s own clan, the Sakya clan, the Shakya tribe. Like the Buddha he was a Shaktrya, a warrior. At the time of the episode recorded in the Sutta he was the Buddha*s personal attendend. He was with the Buddha all the time, looking after him. Just being with him, just as the more famous Ananda was some years later for a much longer ...

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