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In Harmony with Friends and Brethren

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by Srivati

Harmony With Friends and Brethren

Srivati has of course introduced herself but I demand the right to introduce her as well.
And I am happy to do so because I've known her for many years and have the good
fortune to be her kalyanamitra. We have worked together, she and I, in the London
Buddhist Art Center; we were founder members of it, and she became one of the very
early dharmacharinis to be a member of the FWBO Arts and she still is. She worked
very hard in the arts center as the director, it was a new job, and she had to organize
and did it wonderfully. She is a very good organizer, perhaps I shouldn't tell you that
because you might want her to do some organizing. And she is actually very busy, now,
involved in many things, she's still helping at the arts center, because there are lots of
changes going on there today, a second time, and she is back there helping. She left the
arts center in order to follow her creative feelings, her urge to write poetry, and in fact
she produced a slim volume of poetry which I can recommend to you. And I confess I
was bursting with pride when she read some of her poems on the convention last year.
[Remember what I'm going to say and don't get carried away with things I want to tell
you,] I could go on for a long time about Srivati-- I must confine myself to what I really
mean to say. She's now, having published her slim volume, writing a play with the title
of “The Bandit, The Bride and The Bhikkhu“.
It's going to happen in London in May and she's going to direct it as well. So it'll be a
very interesting presentation. She isn't satisfied with having done something well,
there's always something else to get to, on to, to do, and I think that she has such
capability, it's quite difficult for her to confine herself to discovering her creativity.
Well I'm sure she's going to introduce us to her creativity in her talk and I cannot think
of anyone more able to talk about harmony, harmony with friends and brethren, because
wherever she works, wherever she is, she brings a warmth and humor and harmony to
what's she's doing, so I'm delighted to introduce now Srivati. (applause)
The Talk
Thank you very much, Mallika, I was going to start this talk about the live acceptance of
this harmony with friends and brethren. by telling you about when I was in college choir
at Darby Cathedral. I was going to describe to you my blue full-length cassock, my
flowing white surplice with its wing-like sleeves, not to mention the floppy white ruff
that completed the ensemble. I want to tell you about the harmony we created in the
choir, how we sang settings by Purcell and Byrd, how I loved the eight part Rachmaninov
Kyrie Eleison. I was going to tell you about how this harmony was created under the
eagle eye of one Wallace Ross, choirmaster and steam engine fanatic. I was planning to
draw out various analogies between a choir and a sangha, telling you about the hierarchy
of the young trebles or sopranos and the older and wiser altos, tenors and basses,
reflecting, along the way, on the importance of listening, that necessity for the
occasional solo and so on.
Because of course although the grammatical tense of the lines of acceptance refer to
the context in which we join the order of course also suggests the intentions which
ideally we maintain once in the order. So generally the choir can be a useful metaphor
and along the way would have left you with a favorable if somewhat exaggerated
impression of my singing and musical ability. [laughter] But I'm not going to do that.
Apart from the fact that Maitreyi gave an excellent talk on this particular line of
acceptance used in the musical harmony analogy at the WBO day some years ago, I
found my mind turning elsewhere. In fact I found myself thinking about death. It seems
to me that death, when I remember its unavoidable certainty, is a great spur to
creation and maintenance of harmony in one's relations with others.
I first really grasped this beyond the superficial level when many years ago I went to an
HIV test. I was beginning a new sexual relationship and although perhaps naively I
thought unlikely that either of us would have contracted the disease, we both decided to
make sure. I received my counseling, gave my blood and then had to wait for what I think
may be a couple of days for the result. And I decided to make the most of the waiting.
I remember sitting in the shrine room at Khemadhatu, which is our community by Tesco’s
in Hackney, and reflecting on what I would do if the result were positive, i.e., negative
for me. I imagined how I would want to live my life if I found that I had a limited time
left to live. I mean I really imagined perhaps what is of course inevitable. The main
things that I remember feeling was that I'd devote more time to my friends and family.
I would make more room for the giving and the receiving of love in my life. I would keep
those relations in good repair. In the end the test was clear but I was grateful for the
reception that I let it force upon me.
Again as I was approaching my ordination in 1993 it seemed I was preparing to die in
some way and therefore it was imperative that I was in harmony with everyone before I
went. In this case the far north at Danakosha. I found myself more aware of my own
temporary status and what followed from that was the desire to have a clear conscience
as to my behavior to others, no unfinished business. Of course I don't always remember
that I have a sell-by date like any other perishable, but I try, lightly, to bear it in mind.
This doesn't work for everyone but it helps me. Generally speaking I don't often find
myself in conflictual situations, it's probably because I'm more of a greed type than any
other, so harmony is high on my list of priorities. The danger for this type is that we
may, in our concern to avoid the unpleasantness of conflict, sit on the truth, not
communicate fully. In speaking about harmony then, obviously we're talking about the
deep harmony. In our context of joining and dwelling in the order, we're looking at a
profound kind of unity based on mutual love and respect. Now it's strange and rather
embarrassing but I don't actually remember saying any of the acceptances. Yet my
experience of the ordination retreat was of wanting to dedicate myself to the newly
pledged Dharmacharini and it couldn't have been better summarized than in those four
simple yet profound lines. In this case, “in harmony with friends and brethren, I accept
this ordination” captured my heartfelt wish that we, who are the people I'm close to,
the WBO sangha or indeed the whole world, can live together in a spirit of active
goodwill and cooperation. And again in a harmony that's not a pretense of concord
concealing division and difficulty.
If there's one thing I've learned during my time of growing up in the FWBO it's that
true harmony between my friends and I comes only with an awareness, an
acknowledgement of, as film calls it, ‘what lies beneath’. Don't think about that
reference too much, I think that’s quite a gory film. It was one of the things that first
attracted me to the sangha when I first met it at Glenn Gorton High School, in
my first retreat in Battle, in Sussex. The people there were lovely, friendly and
dedicated. And they weren't pretending. So as always the best option on an occasion
like this is to see what the Buddha had to say about harmony amongst friends, brethren
and shall we say sistren perhaps. Because what I want to know is how to maintain any
harmony there is and prevent new and remove existing disharmony.
And there in the Majjimanikaya is the answer--the circumstances of the quarrel
amongst the monks at Kosambi. The situation is one that is all too easy to imagine
happening. Someone does something that another thinks is wrong, and a breach of the
Precepts. In this case the monks leave an unused washing water in one of the toilets. In
other words something pretty trivial; it's against the rules. For us it might translate
into agreed routine in our community or teams. We like what's been agreed, we want
everyone to keep to it. We point out to the other person who didn't realize they were in
error and maybe they apologize. But maybe we tell others what they did, how could they
not do it in the right way? Of course that gets back to the other person and before we
know it there's not only a falling out between the two of us, but we've involved others
and they're taking sides too. This is what happened at Kosambi between two of the
monks who weren't junior ones either. In no time there was, as it said, quarreling,
brawling, wrangling, disputing and eventually schism, division and dissenting acts in the
sangha. The Buddha tried to help but the verbal arrows continued. In the end the
Buddha made an interesting decision. He went away. He left them to it and went off to
spend some time on his own. I like this image of the Buddha simply going away. He
couldn't make them see what they were doing. He says “these misguided men seem
obsessed” and he observed later that even robbers bent on pillaging the realm can act in
concord, and that there was no fellowship with fools. In the end the Kosambi lay
followers get fed up ...

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