My July Newsletter

This year I’ve been trying to revive my monthly newsletter, principally for the prisoners who, unfortunately, don’t have on-line access. So here’s the latest. It might not print very well but at least it should be readable on your screens.

July p1cc

July p 2c

 

Printed copies can be made available on request.

Vassa Visits

It’s traditional just before or in the early part of the Vassa for bhikkhus to go and pay respects and ask forgiveness of particular senior monks who may be living nearby or who are otherwise close and of the same tradition.

1-DSCF7163

So, shortly before my birthday Ajahn Amaro came with a group from Amaravati not only to pay their respects and ask forgiveness but also to wish me a Happy Birthday.

13640801_1768336706770944_6220893244358460536_o

Then yesterday, Luang Por Kampong came with his attendant monk to pay their respects and ask forgiveness and surprised me by being accompanied again by Ajahn Amaro and a small group from Amaravati. Luang Por Kampong is spending the Vassa at Bradford-on-Avon and I’ve known him for many years. When he first entered monastic life and was still in white prior to ordaining as a novice, Luang Por Chah sent him to stay at the remote forest temple on the shores of a huge lake where I was then living.

Āsālha Pūjā and My Birthday

This year, Āsālha Pūjā, the anniversary of the first teaching the Buddha ever gave, fell on Tuesday, July20160717_111935abc 19th and the following day was the day of entering the Vassa, the annual Rainy Season retreat, incumbent on all bhikkhus and sāmaneras to observe for three months. As usual our public celebration had to be held on a Sunday when most people are free to attend and the nearest Sunday being the 17th, that was the day we chose. Now the 17th of July just happens to be my birthday, so, I’m afraid that was added to the celebration. Fortunately the weather was good, it didn’t rain, although to begin with it was a bit cloudy but around midday the sun came out and when we gathered outside for the offerings and the sermon that followed it was blazing.

sermon

My talk focussed, as you might have expected, on the Buddha’s first sermon. I reminded my listeners of what had led up to it: the Buddha’s Enlightenment, then his observation that the world and the people in it were obsessed with attachment and unlikely to heed him but how he had been persuaded by Brahma Sahampati that there would be some with but little dust in their eyes and therefore, reflecting that people, like lotuses in a pool, are at different stages of development but all seeking the light, thankfully, he decided to speak. For the first to hear him he sought out the five ascetics who’d been his companions when he’d been fasting and who had left him when he gave up that practice. And so two months after the Enlightenment there he was with them in the deer park where they were staying. Had you passed by you would have seen six weather beaten men, men who had lived rough without house or home for many years. They would have been poorly dressed and had it not been India where holy men and ascetics have always been revered, they would probably have been condemned and avoided. Had you crept closer you would have seen that one was speaking while the other five listened and what you would have heard would have been the Buddha outlining his message of the Middle Way, the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, the very same profound message that he was to teach for the remaining forty-five years of his life. At the end of the first teaching one of those five had a major awakening and became a Sotāpanna, which means he had entered the stream leading certainly to
Enlightenment.
Following my talk we circumambulated the Buddha Rupa three times carrying candles flowers and incense. And then I sat while, to celebrate my birthday, people queued to ceremonially bathe my hands.

13718177_10209764132128919_1403560763_o

It was a great day and I am thankful to everyone who helped make it so, including all the two hundred and more people who turned up on the day. Anumodanā!

cards3

 

Lord Avebury’s Memorial

20160716_233546

The Memorial for Lord Avebury was held at the Royal Institution in London’s Mayfair on Thursday, June 30th at two o’clock in the afternoon. It was a terrific afternoon.

We drove down from Warwickshire and on our way did a loop off and back onto the M40 to pick up Jim who was a great fan of Lord Avebury and had corresponded with him for years. It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon and a smooth and trouble free journey. The only awkward bit was the last bit, finding our way through the oneway streets of Mayfair to the Royal Institution. We made it in plenty of time and were very courteously made welcome and taken to our seats in the lecture theatre where the main event was to take place. Unsurprisingly, there were so many of the great and the good mostly from the world of politics and the realm of human rights. You might spot in the photographs below Bianca Jagger in the same row as us and Jeremy Corbyn in the one behind us. He was one of the speakers and despite his current troubles sat through the whole afternoon.

2016-06-30-P1000329      2016-06-30-P1000363

2016-06-30-P1000357      2016-06-30-P1000386

This was what I had to say:

Good afternoon.

More than thirty years ago a certain prisoner told me that Lord Avebury, with whom he was corresponding, was a Buddhist. Then one evening I was sitting in another prison cell and the man I was talking to told me that he had complained bitterly that there were no books on Buddhism in the prison library. He said he’d written to Lord Avebury. ‘And look,’ he said and he pulled out from under his bed a box of Buddhist books that the local library had sent in for him – all because of a letter from Lord Avebury.

I thought I’d better get in touch with this man and so I did and over the years we became close friends and frequently fellow conspirators.

And now he’s gone!

When someone close to us, someone we love and admire dies we find ourselves face to face with the stark reality of Change. Change that waits for none of us, whoever or whatever we might be.

The Buddha once asked his disciples if what they experienced, what they were conscious of seeing, touching, tasting, smelling and thinking about was permanent or impermanent. Unsurprisingly they answered, ‘Impermanent.’

Then the Buddha asked them if what was impermanent and forever changing was satisfactory or unsatisfactory. Obviously what we cannot grasp or keep is bound to be a source of frustration and discontent and therefore the answer was ‘unsatisfactory.’

The Buddha went on, ‘Can it be said, of what is impermanent and unsatisfactory, that this is mine, this am I, this is myself?’ No.

And so we come to the true nature of our existence that the Buddha said we must see and understand if we are ever to learn to let go of greed and attachment and free ourselves of suffering. Our true nature that the Buddha described as being Impermanent, Unsatisfactory and without self, soul or substance.

Eric, I believe, derived great inspiration from these three characteristics. They were the driving force behind what he did. He saw that if the self was a delusion then the terms we use to separate ourselves and which generate greed and aversion are mere conventions, as such there is no reason for separation and no justification for the oppression of one by another. With the letting go of self, loving-kindness, for which Eric was well-known, blossoms. And if all is change, it means things can be changed and so whatever is unsatisfactory, whatever is a source of suffering, can be changed and changed for the better. As we all here know very well, that’s what Eric was dedicated to, to changing things for the better.

But now he is gone and all that remains is for us to love him, to remember him and to let him go.

When I last saw him he asked for some chanting at his funeral, which we did, and today as well. So to conclude, I’m going to recite one short verse that is usually chanted on occasions like this.

Aniccaa vata sa”nkhaaraa — uppaada vaya dhammino
Uppajjitvaa nirujjhanti — tesa.m vuupasamo sukho.

Impermanent are all conditioned things, Their nature is to rise and fall:
Having come into being, they pass, Release from them is bliss supreme – Nirvana.

After the speeches we were invited for refreshments and to view a little exhibition of memorabilia from Lord Avebury’s long and varied life.

Most generously it had been his wish that the donations in his memory should be made to Angulimala, the Buddhist prison Chaplaincy of which he was the Patron. Donations are still trickling in but so far well over a thousand pounds has been given.

envelope

At this year’s Spring Hill Buddha Grove Celebration in September we are going to plant a tree in his memory at the Buddha Grove.

Back to Thailand again!

I usually only go to Thailand once a year, in January. That’s my normal habit. But every year in June there is a big Sangha meeting at Wat Nong Pah Pong and I know I really ought to try and go to that sometimes. The trouble is not only the expense but the fact that I love the long, light, summer evenings here and I’m reluctant to be away and miss them.

This year I heard that there was something to be discussed at that annual meeting that I felt I should lend my support to and I was encouraged to go, so I went. It was only a short trip. I flew out from London on the midday flight on Tuesday, June 14th and I returned the following Monday, arriving back at the Forest Hermitage in the evening.

Having left here on Tuesday, it meant I arrived in Thailand early Wednesday morning. I was met and taken immediately to Yod’s place to eat and from there on to Don Meuang Airport for the domestic flight to Ubon. At Ubon I was taken first to Wat Pah Pong to join a meeting of  the Maradoc Dhamm, the organisation that looks after Ajahn Chah’s books and image. I didn’t stay too long. Then I went over to check in at Wat Pah Nanachat where I had a quick shower and rest before going back again to Wat Pah Pong for a preliminary meeting in preparation for the big meeting the next day.

Thursday morning I went for alms in Bahn Bungwy and then later on, shortly before midday, we went over to Wat Pah Pong for the big meeting. The opening chanting was already under way when we got there so we had to quickly find our places and join in. It all went as well as could be expected and after about four and a half hours of sitting there without a break, all the time hot and sticky, it was over.

The next day, Friday, June 17th, was Luang Por Chah’s official birthday. We’ve worked out that he was probably born on May 17th, 1918, so I suppose June 17th was when his birth was registered. Anyway, the Friday was his official birthday so a few of us went over to Bahn Gawr to have a look at the huge stone pillar that’s been set up on the site of the home in which he was born. The idea for this pillar originated with the stone pillars that the Emperor Ashoka set up in various places in India that were closely associated with the Buddha. Like those this one is one solid piece of sandstone and something like 45 feet high. They’re still busy working on it, sculpting it and so on and the whole thing with the area around it surrounded with Ashokan style stone railings and murals is supposed to be ready in two year’s time, which will be Luang Por Chah’s centenary.

20160617_103056 B         20160617_104407 B        20160617_105004 B

From there we went up the road to Wat Pah Pong and to the Ajahn Chah chedi to pay our respects at his relics.

20160619_061436 B

That evening I flew down to Bangkok and from there I was driven to Cha’am for a couple of days quiet by the sea. And that was very nice with on both the days I was there some very welcome visitors. Then on the Monday it was an early morning drive to Bangkok, where I had a meal, got ready and then it was off to the airport for a very comfortable flight back to England.

Burma in January

12694636_1689598141311468_2781188609997095642_o_thumb.jpg

Following on from a previous posting about January in Thailand I must tell you about our trip to Burma also in January.

After the big Ajahn Chah Memorial event at Wat Pah Pong and having shown some of our followers around a few forest temples, Ajahn Manapo and I went South and had a few days rest by the sea. Then in the evening of January 27th we were driven back to Bangkok and early the following morning were on a plane making the relatively short hop over to Yangon (Rangoon). There we had a little wait in the old colonial style terminal, now Domestic only in a rapidly expanding airport complex. When I first went to Burma in 1987 and was stranded unable to leave, I spent nearly a day in that building which then was the entire airport terminal but not anymore! Next we were loaded onto an old prop driven plane of doubtful vintage for the final leg of our journey to Bagan. This is where I’d wanted to go and very fortunately and very kindly someone had made it possible.

DSC02786.jpg      DSC02783.jpg

Our little party consisted of Ajahn Manapo, Ant who was once one of the leading lights at Warwick Uni’s Buddhist Society and is now Dr Ant and teaching at Naresuan University in Thailand, and Ken, a very generous Thai man who was once a student in London and Warwick and who generally looks after me when I’m in Bangkok.

DSC02792.jpg   DSC02795.jpg   DSC02799.jpg

Once we’d safely landed, located the car and driver sent to meet us, been driven to the hotel, checked in, tidied up and had a cup of tea, we set off out to explore. We only had that afternoon and the next day and before us lay 16 square miles of historic devotion that included some 2000 pagodas and temples built in the 11th to 13th centuries when Bagan was the capital of the Myanmar dynasties. We spent practically all the daylight hours at our disposal padding round these ancient, dusty and decaying monuments. Most contained huge and wonderful images of the Buddha and in at least one that we visited, the last four Buddhas. Nearly all were in desperate need of conservation but without an army of experts and a colossal budget there’s obviously not much more can be done than the occasional crude attempts we saw to keep them safe and accessible. Our last evening was spent in the temple pictured below, where we watched the sun gradually dipping behind the distant mountains, while on the river below a fisherman messed about in his boat and further upstream a large riverboat lay at its moorings.

DSC02811.jpg   20160129_174324.jpg1i.jpg    

Then the next morning we flew back to Yangon. We were met by a young man who had helped look after me last year when I was honoured with the Aggamaha Saddhamma Jotikadhaja title. He took us to his family home for the meal and from there to our hotel where we were given a room with a wonderful view of the Shwe Dagon, the colossal and amazing pagoda that dominates the city.

   6881_10156504317620574_6760959095886036350_n

That same afternoon we went first to a smaller pagoda near the river where we were to meet a young woman who used to be one of my students at Warwick and from there with her as our guide we first took a look at the river, the mighty Irrawaddy River or Ayeyarwady River, the same river that we had seen at Bagan and that flows from north to south through Myanmar, before making our way to the great Shwe Dagon. Although you hardly realise it, as clustered around it are numerous smaller pagodas and ornate building, it’s built on the crest of a small hill that you ascend through a long walkway sheltering successive sets of stairs and escalators that gradually take you up and up. There as in all the pagodas we’d visited you go barefoot. At the top, surrounding the main colossal structure and bounded by temples and pagodas, is a space where you may walk, sit and meditate, tell your beads, stop and chat or look about you, or just be; all the while enveloped in an extraordinary atmosphere of respect and devotion. It’s intoxicating. We spent hours there and early next morning went back for more.

    

The next day after an early morning at the Shwe dagon, it was back to the hotel for our meal, then a short time with cold drinks by a lake followed by a brief tour of the building that housed the last great Buddhist Council before boarding our flight back to Bangkok. There, in Thailand, I had a couple of days left to visit a friend’s monastery before the long flight back to London and winter!

Should Buddhism be the State Religion of Thailand?

Sometime ago I was asked if I would give my support to the campaign to make Buddhism the State religion of Thailand. I was reluctant and did not believe that a State religion was a good thing. I thought that it damaged the religion that was chosen and that because of that favouritism for one and the resultant bias others would be discriminated against. But as I thought about it and began to write I realised that we in this country have discovered a powerful argument in its favour.

On the one hand, it can be argued that any religion is better off without the baggage of national, cultural or political ties; and that the ethnic and religious diversity within a nation is safer when there is not a dominant, national religion.

But on the other hand, it can as well be argued that a nation without a national religion is one bereft of moral compass and encouragement to virtue and integrity; and without a national religious commitment the diversity of faiths and the freedom to practise a religion of choice is neither understood nor protected.

Here in England the Church of England is the established religion headed by the Monarch and the latter of those two positions has been our experience. Religion has been protected, not only the national, established church but the various minority faiths as well. We are free to practise our religion of choice and diversity is respected. For example, in February I was invited to attend, along with the leaders of other faiths working in prison chaplaincy, a meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is keen to understand and support our work.

Providing therefore that it is tolerant of other faiths, I have come round to supporting the establishment in law of a national religion.

Buddhism exemplifies and actively promotes loving-kindness and compassion, tolerance and understanding and has long been at the heart of Thai culture making a priceless contribution to its welfare and development. I believe, therefore, that it deserves to be recognised as the national religion of Thailand.

January in Thailand.

DSC0260920160130_183537

This year my annual pilgrimage to SE Asia was in two parts, the first to NE Thailand and Wat Pah Pong for the Ajahn Chah Memorial Day and the second a short trip to Burma, to Pagan and the Shwe Dagon in Rangoon.

Every year but one since the passing of Ajahn Chah on January 16th, 1992, I have attended first the funeral and then the annual Ajahn Chah Memorial Days. Way back when these annual events first began I determined that so far as I could and for as long as they might continue I would be there every year. Since then I’ve only missed one year when I had the flu and couldn’t travel. I go to pay my respects, to remember Luang Por Chah and his extraordinary example and to go back to my monastic roots and to privately renew my commitment to do my best to practise the Buddha-Dhamma in the style and to the standards that Ajahn Chah taught. People sometimes, perhaps tongue in cheek, speak of this trip as my annual holiday, and yes, it is a break, but that’s not really what it’s about, really it’s a pilgrimage.

This year, having made sure I could be at the first of Warwick Uni Buddhist Society’s Monday meditation evenings, I flew out for Bangkok on Tuesday January 12th, arriving the following afternoon and then jumping in another smaller plane to go onto Ubon by the evening. Of course it was dark by the time I was met and driven to Wat Pah Nanachat where I was to stay for a few days but, nevertheless, it was good to be back. The following morning I only managed a short almsround to the people gathered outside the main gate and then after the meal I was driven to another large forest temple near the Cambodian border to visit my DSCF7014old friend Ajahn Nudang. Now in indifferent health following a couple of strokes, he’s a little bit older than me, a little bit senior and a very dear friend and teacher of mine. We’ve known each other for forty-five years. I spent the afternoon with him, watched him career around on the electric tricycle they’ve bought him to get about on and admired his new eating hall.

On the 14th I managed a longer almsround through the village of Bungwy and that day after

 DSCF7097DSCF7284

the meal I went over to Wat Nong Pah Pong for a meeting of the foundation that looks after the publications and image of Ajahn Chah. And from there we went to have a cup of tea with another old friend.

The next day was the big day itself, the 16th, the anniversary of Luang Por Chah’s passing in 1992 at the age of 73. We went over from Nanachat to Wat Pah Pong at around midday. That was just in time for the Dhamma Desanas, one for the laity and another for the monks. DSCF7394DSCF7381

Immediately they were both over we quickly assembled in the main sala and prepared for the procession that then slowly wound its way out through the old main gate, along the path that skirts the old boundary wall, down one of the avenues that approaches the Ajahn Chah Chedi and then partially around the chedi until gridlock. DSC02589DSC02605

Then groups of us took up positions at the four chedi doors and the Acariya Puja in honour of Ajahn Chah was recited. Afterwards we placed the flower offerings we had been carrying, paid our respects and retreated to the shade of the outside sala for cool refreshment.

This year amongst the thousands gathered at Wat Pah Pong there was a group of Thai people from England, people associated with me who often come to the Forest Hermitage. They had organised one of the free food stalls and their offering had been egg and chips! They were joined by another group, mostly from Bangkok and after the 16th for a couple of days we went together to visit some of the more local branch monasteries of Wat Pah Pong. One of them was Ajahn Nudang’s and another the huge and beautiful forest monastery on the banks of a colossal man-made lake close the Lao and Cambodian borders where I had spent my second year as a monk in 1973. DSC02625And on the way back from there we called briefly at the small island wat where the great Ajahn Sao, the teacher of Ajahn Mun, had lived. Ajahn Mun had been an extraordinary monk who spent most of his life wandering in remote places practising meditation and teaching those brave enough and committed enough to stay with him. Almost single handed he revived the Forest tradition. For our group’s last day DSC02632we went to Sakorn Nakorn to visit Ajahn Mun’s museum and on the way back we spent the late afternoon and early evening at the DSC02707great chedi of Dhat Panom. While we were there I was privileged to be allowed to go inside the chedi and later I took great pleasure in being just outside the main compound, soaking up the atmosphere and listening to the birds roosting, the novices chanting and watching the light change as the evening drew in. DSC02742

After that I think I had a day when I didn’t go anywhere and then it was down to Bangkok, some old friends and a few days rest by the sea before – Burma. And I’ll tell you about that next time.

12513952_1686058834998732_6837970721951432723_o

The Road Towards the Exit from the Prison of Hatred.

My  Dhamma Talk given at Amaravati’s Kathina 2015

DSC02570

I quite confidently thought I was coming here for a fairly easy time. I’m at that age when I quite enjoy having an easy time. However, I am very pleased and honoured to be asked to speak to you for a little while. I’m not a great talker, so don’t expect too much. I won’t be keeping you for very long.

It is very nice to be here; I enjoy coming to these occasions – and I quite enjoy too the connection because, as Ajahn Amaro has told you, I came over here with Luang Por Chah and Ajahn Sumedho, on what was supposed to have been a two month visit. It took me nine and a half years to get back to Thailand. I well remember the day when Luang Por Chah called Ajahn Sumedho and me together and said that he, of course, would have to go back, but we would stay.

I must say I was quite pleased really. We were in the Hampstead Vihara , which was the place where I first discovered Buddhism. At that time, I had known and had been taught by Kapilavaddho, who founded the English Sangha Trust. Before I went to Thailand, I went to see him, and he said to me, “You got to promise to come back. They go out there and they never come back: that Panyavaddho is never going to come back. You make sure you come back.” So I said, “Yes.” I promised I’d come back. So, that’s what I did.

And because Buddhism had meant so much to me, I felt I wanted to make it available, or help to, or have some involvement in making it available in this country. In some small way I’ve done that, particularly in the prisons. I didn’t seek out to go to the prisons. But rather the Prison Service back in those days had the Hampstead Buddhist Vihara as their address for matters Buddhist. So it was in 1977 that suddenly we had some letters and phone calls from prisons asking for someone to go to visit their Buddhist prisoners.

I remember I was on a train with Luang Por Chah and I asked him what he thought. I was a bit nervous about asking him as I was wondering what he would say. But I asked him what he thought about my going to the prisons and he just said, ‘Pai!’ It means ‘Go!’ So that was it. And I’ve been going to prison ever since. It’s been a long sentence! So long that I keep seeing not only the same prisoners again and again on sentence after sentence, but I’m even seeing their sons. I sometimes fear that I’m going to die in a prison.

But I quite enjoy what I do in the prisons. There have been some great responses from people in prison. Most of the Buddhists in prison have come to Buddhism while in prison. Lately, of course, we’ve had an influx of Vietnamese, but otherwise most of the guys I see – I go mostly to men’s prisons – have come to Buddhism while in prison, and it’s meant quite a lot to them. Some of them have made enormous changes, at great odds too. They don’t have the luxury that you have of being able to come to a place like this (Amaravati) or go to a book shop and browse the many books that are now available on Buddhism, and all that kind of thing. They can’t do that or look on the Internet and see all the stuff that is available there. They can’t do any of that. And they don’t have the opportunity to encounter a kind of Buddhist culture, as you do. And often, of course, their peers and friends ridicule them for what they are doing. But such is their commitment that they keep at it. And that is marvellous. You have to admire the resolve of some of these people, their determination to practise, to improve themselves, and to make changes. And that, of course, is what we are supposed to be doing with the Buddhist practice, to make changes, some very fundamental and important changes in our lives.

Today we have come to celebrate the Sangha. It’s a great Sangha occasion. In the prisons, a few years ago – well it seems to me now quite a long time ago – the Prison Service asked me what Buddhist festivals could be permitted. As we have people of different schools of Buddhism, and all that, and they would only allow us three festivals a year, I decided that we would celebrate the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha. So it was fairly easy, we chose Vesakha Puja for Buddha Day and Asalha Puja, the anniversary of the Buddha’s first sermon, for Dhamma Day. And then I decided to have Pavarana day, the last day of the Vassa, as Sangha Day.

Because of that I’m very conscious as I go through each year of celebrating and contemplating these three jewels. Lately as I’ve been going around the jails we’ve had some celebrations of the Sangha. So I’ve been talking to the men about the Sangha. About the Ariya Sangha, about the conventional Sangha and the huge debt we have to the conventional Sangha for maintaining and keeping alive the Buddha sasana for all these many years. It’s been no mean feat!

Some years ago, I was invited to a meeting about chaplaincy in hospitals. They assumed I knew something about chaplaincy because I had been going to the prisons for all this time. So I went along to this meeting, I sat through it, and they started talking about what criteria they should put in place when deciding whether a person was fit to be a Buddhist chaplain or not. They eventually turned to me and said, “What do you do?” So I said, “Well we have a form, people fill in a form, and on that form, on the back of it, there are some questions, like: How long have you been a Buddhist? What kind of Buddhist are you? Would you be willing to facilitate schools of Buddhism other than your own?” Then I said, “There are a couple questions about the precepts.” Suddenly, and this was an ad-hoc group of people of different Buddhist traditions, there was this kind of eruption. This woman I remember wittering on about, “There are a lot of Buddhists who eat meat and drink alcohol.” All I had said was “precepts,” and I hadn’t gone any further than that. I was a bit, sort of, taken aback. Eventually it simmered down and I was able to carry on. Then someone said to me, “What do you do if someone drinks alcohol?” I said, “I don’t appoint them.” MAYHEM! There was a guy from the Buddhist Society in London going on about some famous Zen poet who wrote the most magnificent verse and was drunk all the time. I don’t know what that had to do with precepts.

I came out of that meeting really quite shocked. I’ve been around a lot, and I’ve mixed with some of the most infamous criminals in the country and so it takes quite a lot to shock me but I came out of the meeting quite shocked. I thought, “My goodness, Buddhism has only been in this country five minutes and here we are wanting to ‘not bother’ with the precepts.”

So you see, what a tremendous achievement it has been, by the Sangha, to keep Buddhism alive for 2,500 years. It has not been easy. But the Sangha has done a marvellous job. I know that in some places the Sangha is not in as perfect condition as it could be. Inevitably there has been decline. Originally of course, the Ariya Sangha and the conventional Sangha were one. Those first followers of the Buddha who requested the going forth were already Ariyas. They were already Sotapannas. And so in those days the standards were much higher than we have now. There has been an inevitable decline, but that’s the way of it. That’s the way of all that is born, it declines, our bodies decline and eventually pass away. Everything, as the Buddha himself said, when he was near the point of death, and his follower Ananda was weeping, “How could it be otherwise, than that which is born should die?” And so it is that there is this inevitable decline. But still, the Sangha has maintained for this long period of time, the Buddha’s sasana. We can benefit, we have it, we have the opportunity that it affords to make changes in our lives, to improve our lives, to be better people. And I’m happy to say that people in prison pick up on that very quickly because, believe you me, having made terrible mistakes they are very anxious to put those mistakes right, and to somehow change themselves and change their lives. There is much more of that than you would imagine. And I’m happy to do what I can to help them along that way. And so we celebrate the Sangha; we celebrate the Sangha as the conventional Sangha and as the Ariya Sangha.

I remember Luang Por Chah saying to us on one occasion that at the very least you ought to expect to become Sotapanna. I thought, “Oh my goodness!” I hadn’t really considered very much at that point, attainments and so on but there it was, that’s what he said, “You should expect to be at least a Sotapanna.” I think it’s important that we do remind ourselves of the goal, of the purpose of where all this should be taking us, otherwise we can just get lost in the ceremonies and the lifestyle and not really do what we’re supposed to be doing.

I’ve been thinking too about the effect of the Sangha. Kapilavaddho was very keen, back in those far off days, that the Sangha should be established in this country. That’s why he founded the English Sangha Trust. He wanted a Sangha here. You know the presence of a good temple, the presence of the Sangha has an effect because you have there men and women, you have people who are doing something very unusual. That unusual work is an inspiration, and it changes the people who come to that place. It has an effect in that area. I noticed that in Thailand, you know. Occasionally I did some short walks, tudongs, I didn’t do very much of that, but I did a little bit, and it was noticeable when you went through a village where there was a good temple, the village was different. It was cleaner, tidier, and the attitude of the people was better. When you went through a village where there was no temple or there was no temple activity, the whole place seemed sloppier, dirtier and not as tidy. It makes a difference to have the presence of the Sangha. It makes a difference.

You know we live in a very imperfect world. A world which is constantly expressing those defilements of greed, hatred and delusion, and sometimes in terrible ways. Everyone here is, I’m sure, pretty conscious of what’s happened recently in Paris. A terrible expression of those poisons which invade and spoil the minds of all of us. When you have the Sangha, when you have the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha near you, things begin to change and change for the better. When people say to me, “What can we do when this sort of thing is happening, when this sort of violence and warfare is around us, what can we do?”

“What can we do?” Well, if you are Buddhist, there is a lot you can do. You can do some work on yourself: that’s a major contribution. And to support the presence of the Sangha is another major contribution. It makes changes, it alters the atmosphere, and it gives an inspiration to what is good.

People often come together for pretty unskilful purposes. It’s rare that people come together for what is skilful. I’ve thought about this particularly when I was in Thailand a couple years ago and I was at Luang Por Chah’s memorial day. Thousands of people gathered because of something good, fine and inspiring. Marvellous! And today you all have come here for something good. Marvellous. If you didn’t have the Sangha here, you wouldn’t be doing this. You’d be off at a football match or somewhere, or watching television or reading something which would be doing no good to your mind. But here you are doing something which is improving, beneficial, not only to you personally, but of course once you are improving yourself, you are improving your society, you are improving your family, you are improving everything! Marvellous!

In the light of this violence and unpleasantness, the Sangha is an inspiration. And what the Buddha taught, don’t lose sight of that. It’s very tempting when there is violence, when there is unpleasantness, when people are threatened and hurt, to respond in a similar fashion. Already we’ve heard people saying, not only in France but in this country too, that the perpetrators of that, and Muslims in general, should be shot, murdered and terrible things done to them. And it’s in a way understandable, people get hurt, angry and frightened.

You just heard from Ajahn Amaro that I live in Warwickshire, in Shakespeare country. It’s real Shakespeare country. Shakespeare used to walk the lane that I live on. He is alleged to have shot a deer just down the road from me. It’s a very nice place. But around me, as I walk, and I walk quite a lot, I have a personal trainer, he’s a four-legged personal trainer, he takes me out every day exercising. As I go on these training walks, every day, I am aware of the bomb craters, the old bomb craters in the fields. We are quite close to Coventry and seventy-five years ago yesterday morning, Coventry woke up to utter devastation, after 11 hours of aerial bombardment. The city was wrecked. It was a terrible thing. And there around me are these memorials, these old bomb craters left by bombs that were dropped, let off as the Germans were fleeing the scene. I think about it quite a bit.

I was born near the end of the Second World War and I grew up with bomb sites in another part of the country. So I think about it from time to time. But you know, Coventry has been rather marvellous because it suffered in that terrible way, and yet, although of course, inevitably the first thoughts were to fight back, but then later – reconciliation! They have made a really big point in Coventry of working for reconciliation and for friendship. And that’s a marvellous thing. Because no amount of violence and treating “like with like” in that way, will bring anything good.

I remember when I was about 8 years old, not long after the end of the war, my father ran a football team and his football team suddenly invited a German team to come and play. So I’d grown up with this aversion for the Germans, and the only words of German I ever learned were in my comics, where of course the English soldiers were always beating the Germans, and the Germans were saying things like “Achtung” and “Himmel.” That’s all I ever learned. I remember sitting at the dining table one day and these Germans were coming to play my father’s football team and I made some ‘not very nice’ comment about the Germans, which I suppose I thought was clever of me, and my father, I don’t think he actually hit me, but he certainly put me down, “Shut up, enough of that. We don’t want any more of that!” That stayed with me you know. I really respect him for that, that’s one of my best memories of my father. Quite right, it’s over, and you have to repair, and the only way to do that, to deal with this hatred and aversion is by ‘not hating’. Sometimes asking people to love is a bit much, but you can not hate, not get caught up in more aversion, more dislike and disharmony. Let’s do what we can to bring peace into this world.

It will never be a perfect world, we have to acknowledge that. But we can do what we can to make it better, and doing what you are doing here today makes it a bit better. Supporting the Sangha makes it a bit better. Ensuring that the Sangha has a place and a presence makes it a bit better. Practising, yourself, makes it even better. Keeping the five precepts makes it better. Take them seriously, because they are so very important.

I go on all the time, with especially the young people who come to me, about that fifth precept. Because it’s very popular now to break the fifth precept. People don’t like much keeping that fifth precept. Society condones it and thinks that it’s part of ‘what you’ve got to do’. I used to be an actor and actors break the fifth precept pretty regularly I can tell you. But, there is a terrible danger in breaking that precept: go around our British prisons like me and you see the harm and damage that the breach of that fifth precept has done. People’s lives ruined in one night, one minute, because of overindulgence in alcohol or drugs or both. So be careful! Keep those precepts, you make the world a better place. Keep the precepts, develop loving-kindness and you make the world even better. Do it not just one day but several days. Try to keep the precepts with you all the time. Try to keep your mind focusing on virtues like loving-kindness and compassion and you change the world. This is the way. This is the way to defeat all the darkness and unpleasantness.

I won’t go on too much, there are other people you want to hear. But thank you very much for inviting me and I hope what I’ve said may be of some use to you and of some benefit, and do just keep coming here and keep practising and do your very best to make life better for yourself and for all those around you.

Sadhu, sadhu. sadhu…

With thanks to Ajahn Jotipālo who kindly went to the trouble of transcribing this talk.

Lord Avebury died today, Sunday, 14th February.

20151216_191155

Today I had intended to write up and with a few photos publish an account of my recent trip to Thailand and Burma. Only last Sunday I spent some time at the bedside of my great friend and Patron of Angulimala, the Buddhist Prison Chaplaincy, Eric, Lord Avebury, and showed him some photos of the Ajahn Chah Memorial Day and the three days that Ajahn Manapo and I had spent in Burma last month. Eric was very frail but quite lucid and we discussed what he would like at his funeral and the memorial to mark his passing, which he well knew to be imminent. ‘It’s all right, it can’t be helped,’ was how he viewed it. Earlier, with Lyulph, his eldest son, I had been to visit the family burial ground where his body will be interred. He was pleased to know that the snowdrops were in bloom.

DSC02836DSC02839

Now he’s gone. He passed peacefully away shortly before 2am this morning.

Eric, so sorry you had to go but that’s the way of it and as you so often said, it can’t be helped. Thank you so much, for all you did for Angulimala, the Buddhist Prison Chaplaincy, of which you were the Patron for so many years, for all you did for prisoners and the oppressed, for being such a shining example and not least for turning me onto computers and modern technology. I’m so glad we were able to have some time together last Sunday and that I was able to speak to you on the phone a couple of days ago. All the very best for a good rebirth and may you attain the ultimate and secure peace of Nibbana.

http://ericavebury.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/lord-avebury.html