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A System of Training

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by Dhammarati

... “…a trifle ambitiously, a system.”

So, the first thing he wanted to do was to link the different practices. And then he goes on
to make clear why. He said that it needs to be clear how the practices are related. What
we need is an arrangement of practice that takes us forward step by step, and stage by
stage, and then he went on to say that what he wanted was something that made clear the
progressive, cumulative nature of spiritual practice. And for me they’re the central points
that I want to just underline in this talk: that what Bhante was trying to do was – from the
point of view of our own practice being effective – articulate how what looked like a kind
of random set of practices… how they hung together and supported each other; and
secondly, how they became a progressive, cumulative sequence of practice that moved
from the first steps into awareness, into a full transformative spiritual experience.

The system of practice seen pragmatically; the centrality of 'Going for Refuge' -
shared experience of spiritual life

And I want to come at it absolutely pragmatically. I’m interested in how we use our
system of practice as something that’s deeply transformative; and I think that that’s the
main point I want to make this morning.

I’ve been using the System of Meditation as an analogy because I think it’s the most
systematic part of our teaching. Our system of training, our system of practice is not just
limited to meditation practice. So I want to try and broaden out a little bit, and I want to
start with this idea of the centrality of Going for Refuge. I have to say, the centrality of
Going for Refuge is one of these ideas I come back to again and again and I think— have
I really understood this? Have I understood why it gets quite the emphasis that it does on
Bhante’s teaching? And I’m not sure I’ve completely exhausted the implications of the
centrality of Going for Refuge.

When I became a preceptor, I went back and read a lot of Bhante writing about Going for
Refuge… very, very struck by a particular passage. I don’t have The History of My Going
For Refuge with me, so I’m doing this more or less from memory. But it’s a paraphrase
of a point that Bhante made at the time of the first ordinations, and he said at the time of
the first ordinations, now eleven other people – at least to some extent – shared my
understanding of Going for Refuge. So the whole way he described the ordination was
eleven people understanding his experience. He had just described the last twenty-five,
thirty years of his own thinking. It’s almost, you get this “Kaundinya knows!” moment;
you get the idea that eleven other people have understood what he understood as the
nature of spiritual practice.

And then he went on to say, not that that understanding of going for refuge was
something fixed, [but] that it was now unfolding in eleven other lives as well as in my
own. And actually, that idea of a shared understanding— a shared understanding that
wasn’t fixed, but was developing in eleven other lives, and those people in dialog with
each other, and that developing understanding being supported by their communication
with each other. Personally, I found that a very moving description of what happened at
the point of the first ordinations. And what I think the nature of our spiritual community
is: it’s that their own personal experience; their own personal understanding, deepening
and coming into relationship with a network of other people who’s experience is
deepening; and out of that communication is something of significance happens that’s
deeper than any of us would do on our own.

The point I was trying to make was that – for Bhante obviously – this whole area of
Going for Refuge, and a shared understanding of Going for Refuge, is definitive in the
nature of the order.

Asanga on essential elements of practice; 'purified intention' and 'making correction
after failure' - mind and the nature of commitment

I was doing some study recently on an Asanga text, and Asanga threw some more light
for me on the meaning of Going for Refuge. I got a letter recently, from a mitra who has
asked for ordination, for whom their meditation practice is very central, and he’s got to a
point where he’s saying: look, I’m getting on with my meditation practice; I’m having
significant experience. Why do you keep on going on about going for refuge? Why can’t I
just pursue my meditation practice, as it were, on it’s own terms? How does it relate to
going for refuge? How does it relate for ordination? And that had me thinking: well, how
does it relate?”

The Asanga text threw some light on this for me. Asanga is describing the essence of
practice; and there’s two elements, he says, that are essential to any practice (he’s talking
about the Bodhisattva’s practice, but I think what he says is true of any practice with life
in it), and what he says is the first thing that you need is …[MOBILE PHONE AND
LAUGHTER]… [Dhammarati:] “If it’s Bhante, ask him if I’m on the right lines!”
…[LAUGHTER]… [Dhammarati:] “Ma nightmare’s comin’ true… aw ma god!
…[LAUGHTER]… Asanga was saying, central to any practice is what he called purified
intention and then secondly, making correction after failure. And what he says with
purified intention is that what you’re trying to do is that more and more of your energy,
more and more of the stream of your being, is trying to move towards arising of the

But this thing about making correction after failure I have to say I loved, because what
he’s saying is a lot of the time we’re not going to make it, and that what’s crucial is that
every time you move away from this volition – towards deepening our awareness – you
recognise that you have moved away from it and you intentionally come back— and that
that clarifying, deepening intensification of the stream of our being towards awakening is
what’s crucial in practice— and that every other practice basically supports that move of
our own minds; supports that move of our own being.

The thing that unifies, in a sense, meditation with ethical practice/ritual is that all of it
supports this mind that starts off all over the place, within which there’s a strand that’s a
move towards awakening – a move towards awakening for self and other – and that that
gradually becomes the shaping, defining current of our being, of our lives. That’s what
Going for Refuge is, and according to Asanga, that intensification of that intention – the
sustained intention to make correction after failure – is of the essence of spiritual

For me, it linked why Going for Refuge underlies every other practice, how every
practice is basically a supporting of that… arising of the bodhicitta if you like— but that
clarification of our deepest nature, of our deepest purpose.

I just loved though the idea that losing touch with your Going for Refuge is just part of
the nature of it. It’s not that you’ve done something dreadfully wrong; it’s just a given
and all that you have to do – Subhuti put it as – basically, what you’re doing when you’re
making a commitment, is that you’re making a commitment to recommitting. So it’s
every time you lose it, you come back; there’s no big drama in it.

The FWBO as four lineages; meditation not all there is to our practice; a lesson
from Lhundrup about experience meeting a tradition

The second point that Asanga makes is that the essence of the practice is to correctly
receive it from somebody else. What you are getting in a spiritual community, what you
are getting in a tradition, is our own deepening experience meets a more mature
experience than our own. So the essence of practice according to Asanga is that we
correctly receive the practice from somebody else. And that brings me onto this whole
question of lineage.

Vajrasara yesterday reminded me that Bhante actually has spoken about the FWBO as a
lineage. And actually, he has spoken about it as being four lineages:

• he says that there is a lineage of practice
• there is a lineage of teaching
• there’s a lineage of inspiration
• and then (I think as a wee consolation for those of us who have spent most of our
lives working for the movement) he says well you could say there’s a fourth
lineage, which is the lineage of responsibility.

So I want to say something about each of those briefly; but I mainly want to concentrate
on the lineage of practice; and I mainly want to concentrate on meditation practice.
Because of that, I want to make the qualifier: our system of training is bigger than
meditation. For most of us, our meditation is something we do for forty minutes to an
hour each day, and if that was the sum total of our practice, you can forget
transformative. Basically, you’ve got twenty-three hours where ...

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