THE MONASTER AS TEACHER:
'ANAGARIKA' means one who is leaving the home life for the homeless life. It implies relinquishment and renunciation, as the homeless life is the life of the religious seeker, dedicating himself or herself solely to realising the Truth.
A renunciant is someone who can take on the Precepts that limit and contain their energies, so that they're not finding themselves being pulled out this way and that, and they can concentrate their minds on the Truth – which we call inclining to nibbana, the Unconditioned.
First of all, you did the traditional salutation in Pali: 'Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Sammasambuddhassa.’[See Note 1] This is a way of reminding ourselves to be with that which is perfect, the purified, the truly compassionate, the enlightened. Then the taking of the Three Refuges – Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha. What do you really mean by taking refuge in Buddha? [See Note 2] Recollect that a refuge is a place that you go to for safety; and that refuge of a Buddha means the refuge of wisdom. It's pointing to something very real, not something idealistic, or far and remote, but that which is wise within us, that which is wise in the universe, awake and clear. So, when you take refuge in Buddha,. it's not just an empty recitation, but a way for you to recollect, because we do forget and get caught up in our feelings and thoughts.
Then ‘Dhammam Saranam Gaccahmi'. Dhamma is the Pali word for the Ultimate Reality, that which is ultimately true. We're taking refuge in the immortal Truth, reminding ourselves to be with that which is true. 'Sangham Saranam. Gacchami' – taking refuge in the Sangha, the virtuous ones, those who live by a code of nobility and virtue. This is the Bhikkhu-Sangha, the order of monks, but it also means that you are taking refuge in a community, or with all human beings who are virtuous. Or you can look at it as taking refuge in that in yourself which is virtuous, compassionate and good – and in the practical way of relating and living as a human being. Our way of relating to each other is through kindness, compassion and morality, rather than through exploitation and selfishness. In this way, you remind yourself to take refuge in Sangha.
As a renunciant anagarika, you take the Eight Precepts. The first one is panatipata veramani – to refrain from intentionally taking the life of any living creature. You have to learn to respect the life of living creatures, rather than just get rid of them for your own convenience; you have to be more considerate of even the most insignificant form of life, no matter how unpleasant it might be. Panatipata makes us more patient, more respectful towards the rights of all creatures on this earth. We're no longer looking at this earth as if we're going to make this earth as we want it, so that it's convenient for us at the expense of everyone else.
Then adinnadana veramani is refraining from taking things that do not belong to you, so that we train ourselves to respect that which belongs to others.The third Precept is abrahmacariya veramani, which means celibacy. This means total abstinence from any kind of intentional sexual behaviour. This is the way of a brahmacarin, in which we relinquish sexual delight for the religious quest. In other words, we're taking the energy that goes out in sexuality up into the heart, the spiritual centre.
The fourth is musavada veramani, which means to refrain from lying, and to be more responsible for what one says – not using language for insulting others, for exaggeration or for gossip.
The fifth is surameraya majjapamadatthana veramani – refraining from alcoholic drinks and drugs. As anagarikas, you're refraining from intentionally changing consciousness – recognising the way of mindfulness as one in which you open your minds and understand conditions, rather than try to get away from them by manipulating your minds.
The sixth precept is a renunciant one of refraining from eating at the inappropriate time, so that we're not spending our whole day just indulging in eating food. The anagarika (and bhikkhu) can eat between dawn and noon – usually here we eat the one meal just before noon. In the winter, when it gets colder, we have rice gruel in the early morning, but the idea is to eat just what is necessary, rather than spend our time preparing and eating food. In ordinary life, one tends to munch on things all day long – at least I did! – but here we limit, rather than just follow, our habits.
The long one – which you did very well, congratulations! – means you're no longer seeking distraction through entertainment [See Note 3] . You're giving yourself up – when you get bored, or want some fun, want to go to movies, to discos and so forth by abstaining. However, this doesn't mean that we're against fun and entertainment, it means that we're simplifying our lives rather than seeking distraction through the sensual world. Now if we feel bored or weary, we move inward, towards the peace within. Actually, you begin to realise that true peace of mind is much more delightful than any kind of sensual pleasure, so after a while the sense pleasures begin to seem not so enticing, as you begin to recognise the strength within yourself.
The last precept is about sleeping. It is usually translated as not sleeping on high and luxurious beds, but can be regarded more as not seeking escape through sleeping all the time. There's that side of us that, whenever life becomes difficult, wants to sleep all the time, eradicate ourselves through sleeping 14 hours a day – and, of course, that's possible if you have high, luxurious beds. But in the monastic life, we train ourselves to sleep on harder surfaces, which are not the kind of places where you can spend hours lost in sleep. So you begin to develop your meditation and learn to limit the sleep to just what is necessary for the body, and you know how much is an indulgence or an escape. Know yourself how to live with your body and mind in a way that is skilful.
These precepts are guidelines; they are not to be burden-some rules by which you feel guilt-ridden if you don't live up to the highest standard. This is a way of training – you're not expected to be perfect all at once - a way of guiding yourself towards recognising the conditions of your mind, towards recognising resistance, laziness, indulgence and the resentment of being restricted. You should want to see these things, so that you can release yourself from the burden of repression and the burden of indulgence - and find the Middle Way.
This is a training period for one year, so I expect you to remain at least one year under the discipline, and then decide whether you want to stay or not. This life is only valuable as long as you see its value. It's not a life of compulsion: it has to be voluntary, and the energy for it has to come from your mind. You can't expect somebody else to enlighten you. This is a very mature way of living in which you're developing from your heart, developing the effort from your own mind, rather than just being conditioned into being Buddhists or monks. It's useless if you're just trying to rearrange your ways of life and thinking just to become something else. That's not liberation, is it?
As an anagarika now, you no longer have a lot of choices and decisions to make about what to do. Life here is much more one-pointed, so you have more time to watch. We live here under these principles so that we trust each other. We're not here to compete with each other, to see who's going to become 'anagarika of the year' - that would be working from the wrong attitude. Instead, we learn to respect each other and have compassion for each other as human beings, so that we're not being harsh or narrow-minded in regards to individual problems, abilities, or lack of abilities. We can't all be the same, but we can respect the differences.
So, even though we live in a community of many people, we allow the space of the mind, we forgive each other for the things we do wrong. Inevitably, living in a community with other beings means that there are going to be misunderstandings and conflict, but we work with that and with ourselves, rather than try to make the community fit what we would like it to be.
This lesson is very important for a human being - to learn how to forgive - as many of the problems in the world arise because of a lack of forgiveness. Hundreds of years go by, and people are still talking about what somebody did to their relatives two hundred years ago! But as religious mendicants, we don't have to spend our time complaining, criticising members of the community; rather, we learn how to let go of our particular views about them and give them the space to develop. Each of us has to develop from the position of what we are ... recognising and realising, rather than becoming anything.