Transcribing the oral tradition...

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Forest Monks of Sri Lanka - Part 5

by Sangharakshita

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... may not perhaps contrary to your expectation have very much longer to live. So
that one should make the best possible use of every day, not waste a single day, if possible not waste a single hour.

I feel a bit disappointed sometimes when I meet Order Members and after a while I say : "What have you been doing the last few months?" and
they say : "Oh, I don't really know, I don't think I have really been doing very much". That seems almost criminal in an Order Member.
Especially when other Order Members, fellow Order Members, are doing so much, and in some cases are actually overworked one might say.


Devamitra : Sona now has a question on the use of the term 'work'.

Sona : In Jinavamsa's hermitage, members refer to their duties including meditation as their work. Often I personally, and I suspect others think
of their work as being those activities specifically connected with the area of responsibility, for example as a Chairman running Centres, meeting
people, bank managers etc. As regarding meditation, attending retreats including solitary retreats, study and communication and so on all of
which are enjoyable activities and therefore not usually thought of as part of one's work. Would it not be useful if we thought more like
Jinavamsa's pupils in terms of our work to cover all activities concerned with our spiritual development?

S: Well in a way yes. Work means something into which you put energy, but I think one should also be equally prepared to think of everything
as play, provided so to speak one plays hard! I think the term work does have certain slightly negative connotations in the West. I think it is
perhaps good to use it more than we do just to emphasis or to underline the fact that the various activities that we engage in under the auspices of
the FWBO are all things into which we really put energy. We treat them seriously, and treat them in the way that most people treat their work,
what they do as it were. We don't regard them as just recreation, or as hobbies or as side issues, they are work, and all equally work, they are all
equally things into which we put energy for the sake of our own development and in order if possible to help others to develop too. It also
suggests a rather business like way, practical down to earth way of going about things like meditation. You could perhaps try it out. It does also
occur to me that Gurdjieff's followers used to speak of "The Work", by which they meant all the different aspects of whatever it was they used to
do taken collectively. They spoke of working on oneself.

Sona : The next part of my question was : I am not sure that all Order Members would answer the question : "What do you do for a living?" from
a member of the general public by saying : "I am a Buddhist, or Buddhist teacher or professional meditator" etc. How would you feel about us
referring to ourselves on such occasions, as a Buddhist Minister or Priest?

S: I think those words have got all sorts of connotations that we would probably wish to avoid, especially 'priest'. But it is a difficult situation
because you want to communicate something of what you are, you need some kind of nomenclature. But I think we have to be very careful
about putting ourselves into any existing category.

Sona : I was thinking particularly here of for instance when one fills out a passport application and there is a question of occupation, and if one
writes Buddhist teacher it doesn't really say very much.

S: Ah, but then Subhuti went into this for me recently because I renewed or rather changed my passport. Formerly they put your occupation on
the passport, but they don't do this now, not on British passports. It's been dropped. So I had formerly, Minister of Buddhist Religion, so I
thought they would be putting that on my new passport and I wanted to change that because I was thinking of going to India and I was wanting
just to be very careful. So I formerly had my English name which is my legal name, followed by "Also known as Sangharakshita," but I have
changed all that now. I have now a passport with only my English name on it, and of course there is no occupation.

Sona : This would only apply to British passports?

S: Yes I don't know what this practice is in other countries, but in Britain one has not any longer to bother about that for that particular purpose.
But nonetheless, people will often ask you what you do for a living. It depends how serious the question is and how much time one has got to go
into things. Perhaps you should query the whole idea of a living and say, "Well I don't do anything for a living, I have got certain things in
which I am very interested and I am just concerned to follow up those interests, I want to devote myself to them. And there are certain things I
do just to earn money, and they may vary from time to time."
Do you see what I mean? Just question the whole idea of working for a 'living' because you are not working for a living, you are working for the
sake of an ideal and you are maintaining yourself as best as you can, and devoting in a way as little time as you can to earning your 'living' so
that you can work for the things in which you really believe. I think there should be some way of conveying that in relatively few words. If you
are supported, you could say that: "I work for the realisation of certain ideals, and I am supported by a charitable organisation to enable me to do

Buddhadasa : When I have been asked about this question, I have just been saying: Ordained Buddhist Teacher. That seems general enough to
satisfy most people.

S: s, but if they ask you what you do for a 'living', that would not be a correct reply, because you don't do it for the sake of a living.

Buddhadasa : No, that's true.

S: I mean it may even be your full time occupation, but you don't do it, as it were, for the sake of the remuneration so that you can support a
wife and family.

Buddhadasa : I was thinking of those particular forms where occupation is asked for.

S: I think if one is asked by some government department or official body, if you had to fill in a form and there was a space for occupation, I
think one could well put, Ordained Buddhist Teacher. Yes, because one does teach almost invariably if one is an Order Member, at least one is
available to teach on occasion and one is avoiding the word "Minister" or "Clergyman" or "Priest" or "Monk". It's a fairly accurate description of
what most Order Members do at least to some extent.

One is ordained, one is a Buddhist and one does teach. So if anyone asks you point blank what do you do for a living, the answer is really, "I
don't do anything for a living". But then you can just follow up quite quickly with a few words of explanation and clarification. Have people
come up against that particular difficulty and if so how have you dealt with it, if in any different way from what has already been mentioned?

Dharmapriya : All the time, I mean probably because we have a slightly different situation usually, meeting people who aren't connected with the
Friends. A lot depends on the form of the question and the circumstances, and it's obvious that the question is very superficial and they just want

to know how I earn money, and I just say "yoga teacher" in Germany. But if say someone young picking me up when I'm hitch-hiking, well I
can just tell them what I really do.

S: Yes, I was having a haircut in the barbers the other week, and the barber asked me in a chatty sort of way whether I had had my annual
holiday yet (laughter). So I said I never have a holiday (laughter), so in a way that silenced him. So as my haircut was nearly finished I thought
there was no point in going into it all now. But he clearly meant it as a conversational opening.

Suvajra : If he had asked you earlier, how would you have dealt with that then?

S: Well perhaps I would have told him about Tuscany, but made it clear that is wasn't a holiday and why I was going there, and what I was
doing. I think one can do that nowadays, even with the barber.

Dharmapriya : Bhante didn't you answer the question once according to one of your poems, you wrote poetry to the barber?

S: That's true. Yes, I had forgotten that, yes I did, and he appreciated the answer immensely, that was based on an actual incident in Highgate.

Sona : I was recently in a situation where I was asked what I did quite late at night. I did not want to go into everything (laughter), but I replied
that I was unemployed. But I was told afterwards it was rather shocking, ...

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