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What Happens in a Chapter Meeting-Subhuti

by Subhuti

What Happens in a Chapter Meeting

by Subhuti

Talk given at Padmaloka, National Order Weekend, May 2001

Brothers in the Dharma. Thank you very much Mahamati for that metaphysically very
challenging introduction, the exact nature of space and time, well, at least time were called
into question.

So tonight I am going to give the talk that the Chapter Convenors particularly wanted me to
give after the series of talks I gave on the Chapter Convenors retreat. And I came to this event
confident that I had got full notes and would be able to just unfold my notepad and start
talking. So just being cautious I checked my notes and I found that I had got a page of notes
for this particular talk which didn’t really reproduce at all what I said. When one is giving a
series of talks in a context like a Chapter Convenors retreat, well, the thing just sort of
unfolds. So what I said, I said in the heat of the moment, so to speak, and I am not exactly
sure whether I am going to be able to reproduce it tonight. In fact, I am sure I won’t be able
to, but still this is another situation and no doubt something else will emerge. And I have got
seven pages of notes this time, whether that is better or worse we will see.

So I am going to talk about what happens in a Chapter meeting, or what perhaps should
happen, or could happen, in a Chapter meeting. And what I am going to be talking about
emerges really out of the explorations that we have been making in our own Chapter at
Madhyamaloka.

Over the last years we have been exploring ways of approaching our Chapter that I think have
interesting repercussions for other Chapters. What is particularly interesting about our
Chapter at Madhyamaloka is that, for a start, most of us know each other very well, some of
us have known each other for getting on for 30 years, and have been in Chapters and
communities and so forth time and time again. But what is also very significant is that we
spend a lot of time together in meetings, sometimes with other people as well, sometimes in
different combinations, but most of us meet together in meetings for several months each
year it almost seems, at least several weeks each year. And we used to find that we would
meet together to discuss issues connected with the Order, with the Movement, we would meet
together to study, and then we would have our Order meeting. And we weren’t really sure
what the Order meeting was, what was about it that was different from the other meetings.
And so we began to ask ourselves what precisely is it that is different about this meeting.
After all, all the meetings that we were in were meetings of Order members, are they then not
surely Order meetings?

But we felt that was not quite a good enough answer, there must be something distinctive
about the Chapter meeting that is quite separate from the other kinds of meetings that we
have. And, well of course, we touched on basic Order theories stemming from Bhante, and
we realised, we tried to face fully up to the fact, that an Order meeting is different from the
other meetings essentially because it has absolutely no purpose at all. It is a truly pointless
meeting, it is a meeting without any purpose at all. We don’t meet in an Order meeting,
usually at least, certainly at Madhyamaloka, in order to sort something out or to investigate
something or to come to some kind of conclusion. There is not an agenda that we have to go
through, there are not issues and problems that have to be dealt with. There is no purpose to
the Chapter meeting at all beyond itself. The Chapter meeting is its own purpose, you could
say. That is the conclusion that we came to. It doesn’t have to have any outcome, it doesn’t
have to go anywhere, it doesn’t have to conclude anything.

Furthermore, we come into the meeting without any roles, without any functions, we are all
there just as members of the Order, not as members of the College Council, as Presidents or
Preceptors, Mitra Convenor, Order Convenor, whatever, all of that is left behind, we are just
there as Order members. There is no sort of functions within the meeting. Yes, you might
have a Chapter Convenor, but the Chapter Convenor doesn’t have a sort of role inside the
meeting itself. We are all there on exactly the same footing as ourselves, as members of the
Order.

So that when we looked at things in this way we felt that that was quite challenging. How
could we give effect to that? And how could we give effect to the fact that the meeting has no
meaning beyond itself, that the meaning of the meeting is the meeting. What does that
actually mean in practice? After all, if we are looking at things like that, the function of the
meeting is simply to meet. I am sorry this is going to get terribly sort of Zen. It is Mahamati’s
fault, he did the metaphysical introduction, so I am led on in that way. The meeting consists
essentially in meeting. And you do actually hear representations of this when you hear people
sometimes talking about their Chapter. They will complain about this or that in the Chapter
meeting, they will complain about the way it went or the way in which some people act or
their relationship with some people in the Chapter, but they will often say something like,
‘Nonetheless, I get something from it. And if I didn’t go I would definitely miss something’.
And I think this points to the fact that on one level they are looking for something and they
are getting it on another level. So that we are looking for some particular sort of outcome or
some particular kind of experience, but the experience that we get essentially comes just from
the fact that we meet. The beginning and end of a Chapter meeting’s purpose is just that
Order members meet.

The Meaning of Meeting as a Chapter

So what does it mean? What does it mean for Order members to meet? What does it mean
that the meaning and purpose of the Chapter meeting is simply in the meeting? Well, this is
probably all fairly familiar, I did try to go into this a bit on Order Day from a slightly
different angle. But let me rehearse the territory again. Everybody in that meeting is an Order
member, Goes for Refuge to the Three Jewels. There is a very definite commitment that we
all share, that we all know that we share. So that when we come together, when we sit
together in a circle, as we usually do in an Order meeting, we are all aware of each other as
individuals who Go for Refuge to the Three Jewels. To some extent, even if we don’t make
an effort, even if we don’t think about it, the fact that we all do Go for Refuge to the Three
Jewels is present to us. Not just as a theory, it is not that we sort of understand theoretically
that everybody here Goes for Refuge to the Three Jewels, that everybody is committed to that
high ideal, it is just a plain component of our act of awareness, of us being aware of ourselves
sitting there with these people there is sort of spontaneously, you might say, a component to
our awareness which is that we know that everybody there is Going for Refuge to the Three
Jewels. Not just perhaps as a historical knowledge, there is also something intuitive about it.
You could say that that act of awareness of each other as Going for Refuge is comparable to
the act that takes place at ordination when the Preceptor witnesses the Going for Refuge of
the person he or she is ordaining. So in the same way, when we come together in the Order
meeting we are witnessing each other as Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels. And the
whole fundamental meaning of the meeting emerges from that witnessing of each other as
Going for Refuge. So you could say that the Order meeting consists essentially in a mutual
witnessing of each other as Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels. And again, I stress, not
merely as an idea, not just as a theory about the meeting, but as an existential awareness. We
are aware of a quality to the meeting, a quality that is brought about by the presence of each
individual with their individual commitment to the Three Jewels.

So if a Chapter meets on that basis that is enough. We just come into the room, we are just
aware of each other as Going for Refuge to the Three Jewels in a deep way, in an existential
way, in an intuitive way. That is enough. And we might even say that we could just rest with
that, go no further, do nothing else, but just be there together, aware of each other as
individuals who Go for Refuge to the Three Jewels. Everything else follows from that,
whatever we do do, whether we plan it or whether we leave it to spontaneous arising, comes
from that mutual awareness of Going for Refuge, to witnessing each other as Going for
Refuge to the Three Jewels. Of course, we could say that even if we don’t make an effort,
even if we don’t really try to make that conscious, it probably happens to some extent, and
that is what I was referring to earlier when people sort of feel dissatisfied with their meeting
and yet get something from it. In a sense they are aware of that mutual resonance of Going
for Refuge to Going for Refuge without being fully aware that they are aware of it.

So this was our sort of idea at Madhyamaloka. Our idea was that we don’t have to do
anything ...

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