The five principles of wise communication


“Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Ah, not really.

Often it’s words – and the tone that comes with them – that actually do the most damage. Just think back on some of the things that have been said to you over the years – especially those said with criticism, derision, shaming, anger, rejection, or scorn – and the impacts they’ve had on your feelings, hopes and ambitions, and sense of yourself.

Words can hurt since the emotional pain networks in your brain overlap with physical pain networks. (The effects of this intertwining go both ways. For example, studies have shown that receiving social support reduces the perceived intensity of physical pain, and – remarkably – that giving people Tylenol reduced the unpleasantness of social rejection.)

See also:

Besides their momentary effects, these hurts can linger – even for a lifetime. The residues of hurtful words sift down into emotional memory to cast long shadows over the inner landscape of your mind.

Plus they can alter a relationship forever. Just think about the ripple effects of things said between parents and children, from one sibling to another, or among in-laws. Or between friends. For example, a good buddy once castigated me morally when we disagreed politically. We tried to talk it through, but the fact that he showed he could indeed go to that place led me to take a step a back; we’re still friends, but our relationship is smaller now since I steer clear of some major subjects.

So do what you can to protect yourself from hurtful words from others. Prevent them in the first place, if possible, by “talking about talking” with others (perhaps share the guidelines below). If that doesn’t work, try to see the underlying pain and needs that could have triggered them to “let ‘er rip,” put their words in perspective, turn toward resources in yourself and in your true friends, and shift the size or nature of the relationship if that’s appropriate (and possible).

And on your own side of the street – my subject in this JOT, because you have much more influence over yourself than you have over others – speak wisely.


I’ve gotten a great deal of personal value from six guidelines offered 2500 years ago by the Buddha; you’ll recognize their essence – sometimes expressed in the same words – in other traditions or philosophies.

From this perspective, wise speech always has five characteristics. It is:

  • Well-intended – Comes from goodwill, not ill will; constructive; aimed to build up, not tear down
  • True – Not overstated, taken out of context, or blown-up out of proportion
  • Beneficial – Helps things get better, not worse (even if it takes a while)
  • Timely – Not driven by impulsivity; rests on a foundation that creates a good chance of it being truly heard
  • Not harsh – It could be firm, pointed, or intense; it could confront mistreatment or injustice; anger could be acknowledged; but it is not prosecutorial, nasty, inflammatory, dismissive, disdainful, or snarky.

And if possible, it is:

  • Wanted by the other person – If they don’t want to hear it, you may just not need to say it; but there will be other cases when you need to speak for yourself whether the other person likes it or not – and then it’s more likely to go well if you follow the first five guidelines.

Of course, there is a place for talking loosely with others when it’s comfortable to do so. And realistically, in the first moments of an argument, sometimes people stray out of bounds.

But in important, tricky, or delicate interactions – or as soon as realize you’ve gone over the line – then it’s time to communicate with care, and with wisdom. The six guidelines do not guarantee that the other person will respond the way you want. But they will raise the odds of a good outcome, plus you will know in your heart that you stayed in control of yourself, had good intentions, and have nothing to feel guilty about later.

Reflect on the six guidelines as you consider how to approach an important conversation. Then, be natural: if you simply speak from your heart, have good intentions, and keep returning to the truth as you know it, it is hard not to speak wisely! If things get heated, stay grounded in wise speech; be clear that how you speak your own responsibility, no matter what the other person does. If you stray from the guidelines, acknowledge that to yourself, and perhaps to the other person.

With time and a little practice, you will find yourself “speaking wisely” without consciously thinking about it. You might be amazed at the powerful, assertive ways you can communicate within the frame of the six guidelines; consider the well-known examples of Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

And – for a little bonus here – how about practicing wise speech in the way you talk to yourself?!

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When murderers meditate…

Woodcut of Sakuma Genba Morimasa by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, circa 1820s

I wonder what kind of “meditation” Anders Breivik — who shot 69 people on an island in Norway last year, as well as killing another eight with a bomb — was doing?

According to this report,

When prosecutors Friday asked Breivik whether he felt empathy for others, the killer said he taught himself to dull all emotions – “from happiness to sorrow, despair, hopelessness, anxiety, fear” through meditation.

It’s possible that Breivik was not doing anything resembling traditional Buddhist meditation, which encourages compassion and non-repression of emotions. I’d be 100 confident that Breivik was not practicing lovingkindness or compassion meditation!

Traditionally, meditation is only one part of the spiritual path, and it’s accompanied with an ethical code that strongly emphasizes non-harm. Stripped of this traditional context, there’s no guarantee that meditation alone will make someone a better person.

It’s also possible to practice meditation in an unbalanced way that results in an unhealthy form of emotional detachment and a kind of emotional deadening. Sangharakshita, my own teacher, has mentioned seeing some early western practitioners of the Burmese Satipatthana Method becoming very detached from their emotions and from their physical experience. This seems to have arisen from their having misunderstood the nature of the meditation practices they’d undertaken (or perhaps they had a bad teacher or teachers).

But meditation can be used quite deliberately in ways that are at odds with the Buddha’s teaching. It’s said that samurai warriors would practice meditation in order to quiet the mind and make them better warriors, so this use (or mis-use, from the perspective of the Buddha-Dharma) of meditation techniques would not be new.

I’d encourage all meditators to practice lovingkindness meditation as well as mindfulness practices, and to consciously practice the five Buddhist precepts of undertaking not to kill, take that which is not given, commit sexual misconduct, speak falsely, or indulge in intoxication.

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Recovery Mondays: A Buddhist approach to recovery

Scrabble tiles saying "Decide, Commit, Repeat."

A new monthly blog first Monday of the month, by Vimalasara, a.k.a. Valerie Mason-John.

Why is it that so many people make new year’s resolutions, and two weeks later, they are off the wagon?

A study in 2007 by Richard Wiseman from the University of Bristol UK showed that 78% of those who set New Year resolutions fail, and those who succeed have 5 traits in common.

Men achieved their goal 22% more often when they engaged in goal setting, (a system where small measurable goals are being set; such as, a pound a week, instead of saying “lose weight”), while women succeeded 10% more when they made their goals public and got support from their friends.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Of course, the date the new year begins is dependent on the culture we come from; not everyone writes down their resolutions for January 1st. Most cultures do, however, mark the beginning of their new year by letting go of the old.

In fact, up until 1751, the new year in England and Wales began on March 25th, despite the fact that the order of months in the Roman calendar has been January to December since King Numa Pompilius in about 700 BC. Many countries in Asia mark their new year in the spring period, which seems more apt for new year’s resolutions, as the new cycle of life in nature is about to emerge.

Despite all this, the fact remains that millions of people all around the globe will be making new year’s resolutions on January 1st. These resolutions will range from abstaining from intoxicants or from over-indulging in food to paying off debt, getting physically active, or being less grumpy.

Apparently, the top 5 resolutions for 2012 are to

  • Be financially-savvy;
  • Read at least one book per month;
  • Eat properly;
  • Get enough sleep; and
  • Keep a journal of awesome moments.

Notice that none of them have anything to do with abstaining, which may be one of the factors that helps maintain a resolution. In Buddhism, we tend to think of vows—making a strong commitment to oneself. In the lay tradition there are five precepts that we can take and observe. A person may take only one or two precepts, or all five, precepts as a commitment to oneself to change. Though these precepts talk of refraining from an action, they are not commandments. They are what Thich Nhat Hanh calls “Training Principals” for the mind. Sangharakshita, the founder of the Triratna Buddhist Community has developed a positive antidote to each precept to help us train the mind:

  1. To refrain from harming living creatures (killing). With deeds of loving kindness I purify my body.
  2. To refrain from taking that which is not given (stealing). With open handed generosity I purify my body.
  3. To refrain from sexual misconduct. With stillness, simplicity and contentment I purify my body.
  4. To refrain from false speech. With truthful communication I purify my speech.
  5. To refrain from intoxicants which lead to loss of mindfulness. With mindfulness clear and radiant I purify mind.

These antidotes could be seen as the remedy for keeping one’s commitment to oneself. Perhaps lending from Sangharakshita’s advice, when making a new year’s resolution for 2012, think about the antidote. And, most importantly, think about an action plan.

For example, the resolution, I will not overeat any more, could have the antidote, With serenity and courage, I purify my mind.

The action plan could be, I will seek help. I will record what I eat so that I notice exactly what I am doing with my food.

Awareness is the key to success when making a resolution.

Of course, we do not have to wait until the new year to change our lives. Some people use their birthday as a time of reflection. For others, fortunately or unfortunately, a tragic experience or threatening illness brings about period of reflection. However, after a period of time, we often find ourselves off the wagon again.

Buddhism, like many spiritual paths, can offer freedom from suffering if we are willing to open up to the core teachings of the Buddha. They can offer a way of living that enables us to stay on the wagon. Or in Buddhist speech, enable us to stay Mindful and Aware.

A short practice to enable us to become more Mindful

Take a long in breath – Take a long out breath
Observe a long in breath – Observe a long out breath
Become aware of the present moment
And Just sit –
Let your thoughts arise and cease
And Just sit – with heart/mind open to the present moment

Next Month – Exploring the first core teaching of Buddhism and Recovery. The First Noble Truth.

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At Vermont meditation center, there is no ‘me’

Channing Gray, Providence Journal: I arrive early that first overcast day, so I can pitch my tent before dark. Then it’s off to a quick orientation session the night before the start of a weeklong meditation retreat.

I have come to Karmê Chöling, a 700-acre Buddhist meditation center in northern Vermont, about 10 miles south of St. Johnsbury. Many of the 50 or so retreat participants (two are from Amsterdam, one is from Italy) are here for a month, but time and money have held me to seven days, just enough for some serious letting go, I hope.

There are few diversions here at Karmê Chöling. The library has DVDs, but we are discouraged from checking them out. This is a time for contemplation and study. Computers are scarce, and restricted to the dining room. My cell phone is useless in this remote spot.

Days begin at 7 a.m. with morning chants and the taking of precepts, or vows not to take life, lie, steal, engage in sex or take drugs and alcohol for that day. Long stretches of meditation fill our days, which end around 8:30 at night with more chanting.

Most of our time is spent on red-and-yellow meditation cushions in a spacious shrine room with sparkling lights dotting a deep blue ceiling. Even meals are taken sitting on cushions in the shrine room, in the highly ritualized practice known as oryoki, or “just enough,” from the Zen monastic tradition. We eat in silence, engaging in an array of elegant bows and hand gestures to indicate thanks or more food. At night, people sleep on the shrine room floor, on foam mattresses stored in a loft, although rooms are available. Tenting at Karmê Chöling is popular in the summer, but now in that first week of November I am the only one braving the elements.

I am tired that first full day of sitting. The excitement of being here and wind rustling my tent made for fitful sleep. But during a walk before breakfast, snowflakes melting on my nose wake me up to the stillness of the woods and a small river rushing in the distance.

The idea is to pay attention to what I am doing, to be mindful no matter what I’m up to. If suddenly in my head I am whisked back to the newspaper, I become aware of that and return to the shuffle of my feet on the dirt lane and the sight of clouds enveloping the hilltops.

The whole week, in fact, is an exercise in mindfulness. In formal meditation, we follow the breath and try to stay present. When thoughts arise, we notice them, say “thinking” to ourselves and return to the breath. And we don’t judge or analyze thoughts. Even the most pious insights are just “thinking.”

I make a game of this, of just trying to stay in the room, and not get swept up in fantasy. As I breathe in, I am aware of my posture, erect but relaxed. As I breathe out, I dissolve into space. I watch sunlight dance on the shrine room floor, take in the colors of the cushions, then find myself worrying about work and have to return to the room. As I continue this process, thoughts begin to lose their sense of concreteness.

I am relaxed, yet alert, and feel that I am making progress, until I meet with my meditation instructor, Allan Novick, a retired psychologist who spent his life in the New York City schools. I tell Novick that my mind seems stable, and that I am experiencing an “acceptable” amount of discursive thought, to which he replies that all thoughts are acceptable. He reminds me of a line from the morning chants: “Whatever arises is fresh, the essence of realization.”

But I want to do a good job, I say. I want progress and I want it now, I tell Novick. “Patience,” is his advice. And drop any opinions about whether my meditation is going well or not.

Later, I see a quote from the late Chogyam Trungpa, the Tibetan meditation master who founded Karmê Chöling 40 years ago, tacked to a corkboard. It seems to sum up what Novick is saying. The trick, said Trungpa, is to “develop complete acceptance and openness to all situations and emotions and to all people, experiencing everything totally without mental reservations and blockages so that one never withdraws or centralizes into oneself.”

The goal of meditation, if there is one, is to see how the mind works and to accept that. It is not to become blissed out, but as Novick says to “see the truth.” In fact, getting high from sitting is just another addiction, just another trap. But the Karmê Chöling staff makes sure we don’t get too blissful. Just when you think you’re making headway, someone taps you on the shoulder and reminds you you’ve got kitchen duty, or that it’s time for stretching exercises or a talk, all chances to take what we’ve learned on the cushion and apply it to everyday tasks. It’s a chance to look at your mind even when you’re scrubbing pots.

Nowhere was that more evident than during the third day, when we observe total silence. We have been bound to “functional” silence so far, but now we are asked not to speak at all, leaving us only to listen to our thoughts rattling around in our heads. “Noble Silence,” as the practice is called, is like holding a mirror to yourself, watching as you react to people you don’t even know and can’t feel out with polite chitchat. I have only my empty projections and opinions to deal with, from which I learn just how judgmental, how emotionally closed-down I can be.

After a couple of days of drizzle and intermittent snow showers, the skies clear and I wake to a glistening skin of frost on the inside of my tent. I trudge down the wooded path to the main building and get ready for another day on the cushion. I realize that what is supposed to be a relaxing retreat is actually hard work.

By afternoon, my mind has slowed to a crawl. Now there are just stretches where there is nothing but the breath, no mental chatter, just naked awareness. It is at this point that adept meditators see that our interior lives are nothing more than momentary bursts of consciousness that arise uninvited and melt away just as mysteriously. They see that there is nothing behind this stream of thought, no I, no me, no mine. The notion of an inherent self is considered by Buddhists to be just an illusion that results from our strong attachment to the mind-body process.

But what about that “truth” we are all seeking? Even that must go, said retreat director John Rockwell, one of the senior teachers in the Shambhala Buddhist community. Let go of the truth, he said, or “you’ll kill it.”

On the evening of the final day, we gather in the dining room for a festive Western-style meal of salmon, rice and salad. There are toasts and songs, and bottles of wine. We are told that morning that anyone planning to drink should not take the fifth precept, which deals with abstaining from alcohol. So few people took that precept, the room was nearly silent.

After the shindig, I trudge up the hill in the rain for my final night in my tent. I am exhausted as I slip into my sleeping bag, as I prepare for reentry into the world, when I trade clarity for the path of confusion. I pray that I not forget what I’ve learned.

Karmê Chöling, which holds regular retreats and programs, is in Barnet, Vt., or visit

The cost for a weeklong retreat is $440 to sleep on the shrine room floor, and more for a private or semi-private room. Although many people in the retreat are Buddhists, you don’t have to be one to attend.

Original article no longer available

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“Waking Up to What You Do,” by Diane Eshin Rizzetto

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“Waking Up to What You Do”

Available from Indiebound (US only) or (UK)

Parami reviews a new book highlighting that ethical living does not consist of following rules, but rather involves taking awareness into the moment before action so that we can choose how to respond creatively.

Waking Up to What You Do: A Zen Practice for Meeting Every Situation With Intelligence and Compassion, by Diane Eshin Rizzetto

“A precept can be thought of as a beacon of light, much like a lighthouse beacon that warns sailors that they are entering dangerous waters and guides them on course. It can show us the way but also warns us to Pay Attention! Look! Listen! Sometimes we will change course, other times, if we must reach shore, we will proceed with caution,” writes Diane Rizzetto, the Abbess of the Bay Zen Center in Oakland, California.

This book is an introduction to the ethical precepts of Zen Buddhism as practiced by Rizzetto and her students and she makes them very accessible for practice in daily life. There are 10 precepts and she chooses eight of these and reframes them as “tools of discernment encouraging us to take action that arises out of clear seeing.” The precepts are illustrated with many examples both from Rizzetto’s own life and practice and from the lives of her students, taken from teaching situations. This brings the precepts to life in a way which I think most people will find helpful although personally I thought that the analyses could have gone a bit deeper. I think this is a book which will best serve people who are recent to Buddhist practice and who are trying to find ways of turning theory into practice.

Before approaching the precepts individually, Rizzetto gives an explanation of the whole idea of precepts, emphasizing that they are neither rules nor commandments but discussing them as a “riddle of sorts… challenging our usually prescribed answers.” This addresses the very important area of personal responsibility and the fact that Buddhist ethics are “mind-based.” On this topic, Rizzetto makes it clear that we are working to change our state of mind and she connects our behavior to the practice of awareness. To aid this she includes a simple awareness meditation practice as a useful appendix to the book.

There is an interesting suggestion made of how to pause in the moment of awareness before action. This Rizzetto describes as “the dead spot.” While at first I didn’t find this phrase especially inspiring, on reading the relevant chapter a couple of times I did appreciate the sense of stillness that she is evoking in using this metaphor (it comes from an interview with a trapeze artist that Rizzetto once read).

“Our dead spots can take many forms,” she writes.

“They can occur at the time of major events, like changing a relationship or a profession. It can be the loss of a loved one or indecision over what action to take when faced with a job choice.

“Whatever it is, no matter how big or small, the dead spot appears when we cannot engage in our habitual way of holding and grasping for the bars, either because we are forced to let go or we willfully launch ourselves into midair.

“Life pries our fingers loose and no matter how much we try to avoid it, we end up in the suspended moment, not knowing what comes next.”

According to Rizzetto, it is in this “dead spot” of awareness that we can be fully present to ourselves and from that awareness we can choose to act creatively. And the precepts help us to make our way skillfully in that moment.

Rizzetto then goes on to explore individually each of the eight precepts that she has selected for discussion. These have been chosen, as has the order in which they appear, based on her teaching experience. She has chosen those which most often come up in the lives of her Zen students and that are therefore almost certainly most relevant to her readers. Personally I had to make a bit of an effort to relate to the rather culturally specific nature of some of these examples. Having said that, some of the stories were certainly of more universal interest: problems with mothers; kids who scream in your ear; spouses who leave the sink full of dirty dishes.

As is usual in all traditions of Buddhist practice, the chosen precepts cover behavior of body, speech and mind.

I also found interesting her attempt to link our ethical practice to world situations, though again I would have enjoyed a deeper exploration of this. However, perhaps this book is not the place for such depth but works best as a practical manual for life. She particularly touches this question of social application in the chapter on the precept she translates as I Take Up the Way of Supporting Life.

Overall, I think the book will be helpful to those struggling to establish a Buddhist practice in the midst of their everyday life and, as such, it is useful and timely. A book, of course, can only help us so far and perhaps the most interesting observation is the need to have someone to help guide us in our practice. As a teacher Rizzetto obviously listens hard to her students and helps them to find the relevance in their own lives for the Zen practice she teaches. While examples can be helpful and even inspiring, at the end of the day I think there is no substitute for finding teachers or fellow practitioners who can help us make sense of the beauty of the Buddha’s teachings in our lives and in the world we live in.

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A day in the life: A monk on Fearless Mountain (Ukiah Daily Journal, CA)

Tony Anthony, The Ukiah Daily Journal: Ajahn Pasanno appears out of the woods, walks up a few steps and plunks himself down in a comfortable wicker chair on the front porch of Abhayagiri “Fearless Mountain” Monastery in Redwood Valley.

The day is coming to a close and the peace and the quiet of the place is what is noticeable. The only noise is the distant sound of a lawnmower, which almost seems to come from some other world, a world different from this one. Ajahn, means teacher and is used in place of a first name for the abbot of the monastery. Pasanno means “one having faith and joy,” the name his teacher bestowed on him when he was still a novice.

It is difficult to imagine Ajahn as a young man in a secular sense, now that he is of middle age, with a shaved head and clothed in a simple mustard-colored robe. It seems he was always this person he is now. But Ajahn’s journey began in the 1970s as a young man when he left his home in Manitoba, Canada after finishing his university studies to travel the far reaches of the world. He rambled through Europe, Afghanistan and India, not seeking to become a Buddhist monk but visiting various holy places along the way.

It wasn’t until he arrived in the north of Thailand that he began to feel a sense of belonging. In order to learn more about Buddhism, he attended some classes at a monastery called Wat Nong Bah north of Chiang Mai. “I was just passing through, but the Thai society seemed to have a whole different value system. I felt at home,” he said.

After a month-long stay, the Abbot of the monastery suggested the young man consider ordination with an initial goal of remaining three or four months. Although he was not yet sure what he was getting into, he was willing to give it a try. He took on the robes of a forest dwelling monk thinking it would be only for a short time that was the beginning of the life he still lives now, more than 30 years later.

“You are not required to make a life-long commitment,” Ajahn says, “It just happened.”

The monk says he didn’t have any intuition that he would lead a monastic life.

“When I began it was to learn how to meditate.” But, he says, “at one point, it didn’t seem possible to go back.”

Thus the young monk began a practice where monks wear plain robes and shave their heads in an effort to let go of their own personal preferences.

“Doing this, is about simplification,” Ajahn says. “We renounce the world because of the peace that comes from it. The quality of peace we can access and dwell in is deeply satisfying.

“I encourage people that peace and well-being are a possibility for your life – to explore that for your life. I encourage people to use the tools of a virtuous life.”

An Abhayagiri pamphlet lists the “The Eight Precepts” for leading such a life: 1. Harmlessness: not intentionally taking the life of any living creature. 2. Trustworthiness: not taking anything which is not given. 3. Celibacy: refraining from any sexual activity. 4. Right Speech: avoiding false, abusive or malicious speech. 5. Sobriety: not taking any intoxicating drink or drugs. 6. Renunciation: not eating after mid-day. 7. Restraint: Not seeking entertainment, playing radios or musical instruments. Dressing in a modest, unadorned way that does not attract attention. 8. Alertness: refraining from over-indulgence in sleep.

Choosing to live amidst the beauty that surrounds Fearless Mountain may not seem to be renouncing the world at all, but Ajahn Pasanno says, “we even try to renounce the beauty. Most people try to get more of everything. Then when they get more they feel a loss when they lose it and don’t have it anymore. Then they lament the separation.

“A monk gets to the place of stillness. It is not rejecting anything – it’s another aspect of life that most people don’t pay attention to.”

A gift of land

There are eight monks who live at Abhayagiri, plus one novice and one postulate in training, all living on 250 acres of almost untouched forest land, originally a gift from the late abbot of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Ukiah – Master Hsuan Hua. Master Hua dreamed of bringing the Northern and Southern Traditions of Buddhism together again where they could relate in an atmosphere of mutual respect and harmony.

The monastery was founded by two teachers, Ajahn Sumedho, and Ajahn Amaro after they developed a devoted following in Northern California in the1980s. The original Abhayagiri was in ancient Sri Lanka at Anuradhapura and although it follows the Theravada branch of Buddhism, the monastery was known for accepting both teachers and practitioners from many different Buddhist traditions.

“The monastery currently has more people who want to come here and be monks than the facility can handle,” Ajahn says.

A monk named Sudanto, meaning “one who trains himself well” calls Abhayagiri, “a zone of peace people can use as a community resource.” He explains the monastery’s connection with the community as, “an interrelationship that keeps us (the monks) relevant, as a peaceful presence – people with deep knowledge and experience of the Buddhist teachings of peace and wholeness.”

A day in the life of a monk

The day on Fearless Mountain begins at 4 a.m. Then from 5-6 a.m. they begin their spiritual practice with meditation and chanting. These reflections set a tone of the mind during the day. 6:30-7 a.m. there are some general chores, cleaning up and a light breakfast. At 7:30 a.m. the monks meet to delegate chores – maintenance, cooking, office tasks and the job of maintaining the miles of trails which circle through the forests. After chores, the monks have their main meal from 10:30-11 a.m.

When it comes to food, the forest dwelling monks are alms mendicants. Not allowed to plant or pick their own food, they rely on gifts. The monks can be seen on Fridays walking through the center of town collecting gifts of food.

“This creates interdependence with the lay community. We don’t want to be completely cut off,”Ajahn said.

He explains this synergistic relationship. “People from the community come to the monastery to gain more simplicity, more well being. We give the opportunity for people to have the way of living, which is more peaceful, more fulfilling. Sharing our life is sort of the by-product. If one’s goal is to teach, it can be distorted. Refocus on the quality of our lives and that becomes an example to others.”

Ajahn is suddenly explaining some of the core elements of a monastic life. “The more the I’ can get out of the way, the more peaceful things become. The monks spend the remainder of the daylight hours in their cabins where they do various forms of meditation – both traditional sitting, and walking. Ajahn explains: “Outside each cabin is a level 50-foot path where the monks develop sustaining attention on the walking – recognition of words and mental states. ”

At 5:30 in the afternoon the community gathers once again for tea. This is the time for guidance by the teacher. Help also comes from the community at large – mental support from other monks. Even monks learn from each other’s foibles. Asked if monks maintain personality traits like senses of humor, Ajahn says that even ascetic monks remain individuals and some are known for their enlightened sense of humor.

At 6:30 p.m. there is a reading where monks can ask questions, then from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m., evening chanting and meditation.

Many questions, of course, will arise even in those experiencing blissful states of mind. Ajahn explains, “of course there is a longing to repeat that experience. We don’t want to be dependent on anything. The enlightened are not dependent on anything for their happiness. Although,”he is quick to add, “there is a quality of compassion. But we strive for separation from attachments that create entanglements. We are conditioned to think we need certain things for our well-being.”

Too much eating or sleeping creates complications in life. Ajahn laughs as he mentions just how much of everything people seem to need to be happy. And then, he asks, are they ever really happy?

As the sun is ready to drop behind the mountains to the west, Ajahn Pasanno is eager to show a “walking meditation.” High up on the mountainside at the end of a path curving between the manzanita trees, is a small cabin where the monk spends most of his time in meditation. Beside the cabin is a 50-foot dirt path where he thoughtfully, mindfully walks with his eyes sometimes closed, sometimes open.

A gift from Thailand

During one evening recently, the Abhayagiri Monastery held a ceremony for the installation of a statue of the Buddha, a gift from a Thai donor. After the sun had set and the moon had risen, a delegation of monks – both resident and visiting but of the same forest tradition – sat on a wooden platform amongst the trees, chanting at the base of the statue. The scene was magical, with a hundred or more devotees from all parts of the country in attendance.

As the mountaintop had grown colder as the night grew later, the visiting abbot Ajahn Liam spoke in his native Pali, translated by Ajahn Pasanno for the western guests in attendance. “We might feel it is a bit cold – but nature is just being natural, natural to the climate and the season. It is just liking it or not liking it.” He went on to say, “Nobody wants to suffer, to experience discomfort.”

The moon was half full, sitting in the sky above the mountaintop, giving a golden glow to the resplendent life-size statue of a sitting Buddha. The breeze rushed through the trees making a sound much like ocean waves breaking on a shore. The monk’s point was that nature is always in the business of just being nature and it is up to humans not to be disturbed by the world around them. Then, only then, when we accept the world for what it truly is, are we able to see ourselves as we truly are – perfect, divine, awakened individuals – happy to be who we are.

Original article no longer available…

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