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THE MONASTER AS TEACHER:
THE SAMANA AND SOCIETY

THE TEACHINGS OF THE BUDDHA are the teachings that help us to understand ourselves. Even though it's quite possible for us to figure it out on our own, I really doubt whether I would be able to do it, so I'm quite grateful to have an established form and convention to use as a guide in order to understand my emotions, memories and habits.

Being committed to the convention of a samana [See Note 1] means that it's something I give myself to voluntarily; it's something I feet grateful to and respect, so that I stay within the limitations that it places on me. Kata˝˝u – gratitude – arises in the mind. I remember the tremendous feeling of gratitude that arose towards Tan Ajahn Chah and Thai society when I realised that they had provided me with the occasion and the support to live like this and to understand myself. When you realise the wonder of that, you gladly live within the conventions; you want to perfect them and be worthy, as a way of offering back to those who have supported you. So one goes back into society, in order to be of service and give that occasion to others.

An alms-mendicant is one who gives the occasion for others to give alms. This is different from being a beggar going around scrounging off the neighbours. . . . A lot of people think we're just a bunch of beggars. ‘Why don't they go out and work? They probably laze around Chithurst House just waiting for someone to come along and feed them! Why don't they go out and get a job, do something important?' But an alms-mendicant gives the occasion for others to give the alms that are necessary for existence – such as food, robes, shelter and medicine. You don't need very much, and you have to live quite humbly and impeccably so you are worthy of alms. One reflects: 'Am I worthy of this, have I been living honestly and rightly within the discipline?' – because what people are giving to is not me as a personality, but to the Sangha which lives following the teaching of the Buddha.

This monastery is dependent on alms. There are no fees for staying; it just depends on what people offer. If it was an institution based on fees, we wouldn't really be samanas any more, we'd be businessmen, making a business out of teaching the Dhamma which has been freely given to us. A country like this is regarded as a benevolent and good country, but it has become too bureaucratic and too materialistic. Here in Europe, people have lost that kata˝˝u – we've become very demanding, always complaining and wanting things better and better, even though we don't really need such a high standard.

As samanas, we give the occasion for people to give what they can, and that has a good effect on us as well as on society. When you open up the opportunity in a society where people can give to things they respect and love, people get a lot of happiness and joy. But if you have a tyrannical society where we're constantly trying to squeeze out everything we can get, we have a miserable and depressed society.

So in Britain now, we as monks and nuns make ourselves worthy of love and respect, people make offerings and more people experience the arising of faith. More people come and listen – they want to practice the Dhamma, they want to have the occasion to go forth, and so it increases....


Notes

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1. samana: one who has entered the Holy life; a religious; originally, a religious recluse or wanderer.


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