by Bani Shorter
Among the many books about Buddhism that have recently been brought to my attention this one is unique. It is not a text; it neither exhorts, compares nor expounds. Quite simply, it opens a way through the landscape of life, ageing and death. Reading, one joins the author on the Way. It is vivid; it is honest; it is profound. All, all flows naturally, revealing a terrain of trust.
The author is a Buddhist monk of some twenty years' experience in the Theravadin tradition of the forest monks of Thailand. Though originally from New Zealand he is now abbot of Ratanagiri, a monastery located at Harnham in Northumberland, England. But what he writes carries no connotation of something acquired or learned. It resonates with the power of authenticity. He appears to be one with the fabric of that which he expresses. He intervenes with his presence without having to overstate it. The thread of his text subsides into an untimed sequence and although, undoubtedly, it is the product of sustained attention, it conveys a refreshing spontaneity, directness and compassion.
Compassion, that is, which is focused upon the dilemma of being human and being face to face with realities affecting us here and now. There is no avoidance or escape into the mists of exotic and esoteric practice. Rather, the author speaks of ancient truths in the language of now affirmed and reinforced by personal experience. So the message of the book is equally relevant to monks, nuns, lay Buddhists and other companions of the Way from whatever spiritual traditions they come. The simplicity in which it is expressed attests to its availability.
The book is not intended as a beginner's manual, however. Here there is no attempt to update a tradition thousands of years old by equating it either explicitly or symbolically with modern teachings, technical or scientific. Neither is the aim to proselytise any more than to substitute a methodology for original insight. Instead, with seemingly artless invention and without guile, the speaker invites us to see and claim that of the Buddha's wisdom and perceptions recognisable in each of us. Yet, although these are the words of an elder monk, abbot and teacher, speaking from the perspective of a Jungian analyst, I find there is nothing here which is inconsistent with the findings of Depth Psychology. He has managed to surmount the difficult barrier of language and theoretical comparison by integration rather than an attempt to dissect and analyse what is experienced as an inherent unity of the person.
It might have been easier, as it appears to have been for many others, to differentiate, instruct or advise. But Dhamma talks, such as these originally were, are given in an atmosphere suggesting we're all in it together. The aim of a speaker at such a time is to awaken awareness for possibilities of knowing and a collection of such talks should always carry the resonant sound of a message waiting to be heard. Reading these pages, the reader hears this; apposite words resonate and take root in conscious process.
So one can open these pages with excitement and feel anticipation of inner discovery. Here emphasis is placed upon journeying rather than arrival. Whether the one who journeys be old or young, he or she will not be admonished to take the Way or be made to feel ashamed of having stepped aside from the Way but, quite simply, the challenge is to approach the Way and recognise the possibility that it has parallels with one's own. Yet, this would not be possible without Ajahn Munindo's communication of his own evident respect for the Way. With a sense of wonder so deep as to be engaging and ever-transitional, he beckons us to being. He speaks directly and matter-of-factly to persons in a manner that is mindful of the path each has tried and the suffering that has entailed. Trials are not trivialised; instead, they are dignified through acknowledgement of their relevance.
There is something incorruptible about what is contained here, a wisdom of enduring value presented so quietly, so directly so as to be available to any of us. For some it becomes a summons to practice; for others it amplifies insights already intuitively grasped. For still others it offers an introduction to process. There is a solidity about the book that engenders trust. It addresses live and decisive moments on the journey of an individual. Such wisdom is not enduring because it is Buddhist. It becomes enduring because it speaks of day-to-day existence and its connection with the emergence of meaning.
Bani Shorter is a senior analyst who lives in Edinburgh.
She was trained at the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich, Switzerland and in addition to working as a consultant she also lectures and writes. Her most recent book is entitled Susceptible to the Sacred.
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