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THE MONASTERY AS A TEACHER:
LAY PEOPLE AND THE VIHARA

Where there is uprightness, wisdom is
there, and where there is wisdom,
uprightness is there. To the upright there is
wisdom, to the wise there is uprightness,
and wisdom and goodness are declared to
be the best things in the world.

Digha Nikaya IV -124

I WOULD LIKE TO SUGGEST that people coming here should, on occasion, bring candles, incense and flowers as an offering. This is a good tradition – to make an offering as part of our devotional practice as Buddhists, as an act of worship, of gratitude, of love towards the Teacher, the Buddha. The Buddha is the One Who Knows, the Wise One within us – but that's also just a conceptualisation. To use our bodies within conventions, in a harmonious and graceful way, inclining towards generosity, is in itself an act of giving. Is your attitude 'I come to the Vihara to get something' or 'I come to the Vihara to give' – to actually physically give something?


Bowing ... this is another tradition. Learn how to bow mindfully, putting one's head down, surrendering oneself physically, giving oneself in the act of bowing, instead of just saying, 'I am not aggressive, I am not proud and arrogant.' If you get proud that you bow so well, or if you start hating people that do not bow, then ... ! This is an act of devotion, and devotion is an opening of the heart, of the emotions rather than the intellect. 'How much do I gain from bowing?'– you can try to figure out its advantages or disadvantages, whether it's the real Dhamma, or it's necessary or unnecessary. But any opinion and view that you have about it is just another opinion and view.


Bowing is something that is done or not done - giving or not giving – but heedlessness is always this rationalisation, this wanting to criticise or analyse or find reasons for doing or not doing something. If we live our lives in wisdom, then we do or not do. With awareness, we know what to do – the generous, the beautiful, the kind, the spontaneous; good actions are done through awareness, through a seeing and understanding of time and place. Or there is awareness of not doing, of wrong impulses, selfish impulses – these we do not act upon.


Chanting – what is this? Is this a valuable thing, or is it useless? If you ever doubt about it – to do it or not to do it - what goes on, do you know? Do you have to find reasons and justifications, do you have to be convinced? Or do you take some stand, saying 'I am not going to do it' or 'I am going to do it'? Some people are always saying, 'Oh, chanting reminds me of all those awful things Roman Catholics used to do to me - blind devotion and rituals, rites and ceremonies.' This is taking a stand. Can you mindfully participate in ceremony or are you going to reject it because of a stand against it? Can you give yourself to a tradition, or are you going to say, 'I'll only go so far, and then stop'?


Like in the monastic life – can you give yourself to the monastic life, or are there going to be reservations? 'I'll go so far, then I don't know. In meditation, I'll go so far then maybe.... I want life on my terms, and always with the bridges there so I can run back across them if I don't like what's ahead of me.' This is of course samsara, heedless wandering.


In the practice of awareness, it is always the present moment, complete involvement, complete surrender, acceptance – and that is liberation. With the other - with the doubt, the rationalisations, justifications and reservations – then there is always a myriad of complexities that are going to pull us this way and that, and confuse us. So I offer this for your reflection.

 

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