Greetings from Wat Buddha Dhamma, 10 Mile Hollow, Wisemans Ferry, NSW 2775, Australia; www.wbd.org.au
As many people are aware, Theravada monasteries around the world undertake a three-month 'Rainy Season Retreat' from July to October. Here in Australia this corresponds to the mid-winter/early spring season, a suitable time to undertake a formal retreat schedule. This means the monastery residents (aged monks exempted) follow an 8-hour daily program of group sitting and walking practice. As well as the weekly Saturday night Dhamma talk, there is also a weekly Sutta Study class, which I am leading. The theme this year is 'The Eightfold Path in Detail'. These talks will be uploaded to the monastery You Tube channel:
This year we have seven monks in residence, from seven different countries! Two of the monks do not speak English, so we make do with Thai and mobile phone translator. Also staying for a month of the retreat is Sister Ajita from Indonesia, and, for the full period, our loyal team of upasikas: Annie, Aree and Meghan, as well as Bryce, Luke and Lotus.
Before the Rainy Season Retreat began, I took the opportunity for a trip to visit family in Canada and give some teachings for Dhamma friends there. I had to do a bit of hopping around to visit all three siblings, plus several cousins. However, it was a delight to meet up again after nearly seven years. It seemed such a long time that I was wondering if we would still recognize each other! In the end it was no issue. While us older folks do not age so quickly, it was a challenge to recognize the grand-nephews and grand-nieces.
I also had the opportunity to visit Birken Monastery once again, an associated monastery in central British Columbia where I spent two Rainy Season Retreats. Ajahn Sona and Sister Mon are diligently keeping the place going, through three years of Covid lockdown, at least one 'Arctic Winter' and a bush fire evacuation. Ajahn Sona has suspended travels but has been putting much effort into his video Dhamma talks, all professionally recorded and edited. He has also been upgrading the facilities, including a five-star Mahathera hut for visiting senior monks.
I gave a day-long meditation session in Victoria, B.C., on the theme of my book “Beyond I-making'. For this session, with more experienced meditators, I focused mainly on the Five Groups of Grasping, one of the two main sources of the I-making process. The talks can be downloaded from: www.victoriaims.org Then, shortly before my return to Sydney, I gave another day-long session in Vancouver, also on the theme of my book but with emphasis on the Six Senses, the other main source of making 'I'.
Wattles on the Fire Trail
I have previously given several Saturday night talks on the profound benefits of the Eightfold Path, particularly in its shortened form as Morality, Meditation and Wisdom. The Buddha reminds us that the complete path to liberation comprises these three factors. Of course, most religio/spiritual teachings emphasize the benefits of Morality, however, few of them have discovered combining the benefits of Meditation and Wisdom. Buddhists are extremely fortunate to be readily given this complete path, rather than have to flounder around trying to find the right combination of factors to fulfil the path to liberation. I remember quite painfully my early struggles to find the right spiritual practice, fortunately not going too far wrong or lost for too long a time. If it had not been for a friend giving me a book on Buddhism at university, I may still be scrambling around looking for some perfect solution to suffering.
Although each of these three factors have a wide range of refinements and expressions, it is the carefully balanced combination which allows a honing in on the right path. Thus, the Buddha teaches that developing refined Morality, or Skilful Living, provides a firm and stable basis for the development of Meditation. Without a skilful lifestyle there is a danger that some of the states of mind exposed by clear mindfulness or heightened collectedness will be too over-powering for the unstable psyche. This can unfortunately lead to even more mental disturbance rather than meditation supporting an increase in clarity and calm.
A mind endowed with increased clarity and calm is then able to observe more concisely and consistently a deeper level of truth than our ego would normally allow. Most of us, of course, observe the world through the lens of our ego's biases and preferences – we see the 'truth' which our ego allows us to see. This is usually not 'the way things really are' but only some shallow and corrupted version of reality. No wonder we are so often out of harmony with reality and find ourselves overcome with suffering.
With the steady development and careful balancing of these three factors of Skilful Living, Meditation and Wisdom our life and our mind become a receptive vessel to receive 'the way things really are' (without ego interference) and thus we can flow in harmony with reality beyond the reach of suffering. This possibility is available to us all. May we come to realize it.
Wishing you all good health, well-being and the peace of Liberation.
P.S. Copies of 'Beyond I-making' can be obtained at the monastery or the ebook version downloaded from the monastery website: www.wbd.org.au/news/book