Pointers to the Ultimate, by Ajahn Sumedho

Welcoming Descent of Amida and BodhisattvasIn any religion there is the exoteric side — the tradition and forms, scriptures, ceremonies and disciplines—and the esoteric, which is the essential nature of that. So, in much of what we call religion, the emphasis is really on the external form. And of course this can be variable. There is no one external form that is totally right, making all the others inferior to it. The aim of a religion is to point to the truth or the deathless reality, immortality, or in Christianity to God. But what is God? If God is a being, then that’s a condition. If God is something that comes and goes, arises and ceases, then God is not an ultimate reality. So God must also mean ultimate, that which religion points to, that which is immortal and ultimately real and truth. God in Christianity is personified in the Trinitarian structure in which there is God the Father (the patriarchal form) and the Logos or the Word of God, where God’s Word was expressed through Jesus Christ. These are the traditional beliefs and the exoteric form of, say, Christianity. Continue reading

We can always start anew, by Ajahn Sumedho

The bodhisattva Jizō. Metropolitan Museum of ArtWhen something unpleasant happens, or something bad, if we say, ‘Well, you know, that’s the way it is . . . !’ that’s not Suchness. That’s just a cynical statement. ‘Life is pretty horrible and that’s the way it is. Just got to put up with it.’ That’s like resignation to misery. It isn’t Suchness; unless, of course, you see the Suchness of that particular attitude.

Or, when we regard the past as something that is very real, we may think, ‘Ten years I’ve been a monk,’ ‘Twenty-eight, twenty-nine, years I’ve been a monk.” That is conventional reality, but it is also thinking of ourselves as having been something for twenty-eight years. That is just a memory; it is perception in the present. When you really look at it, there is not a person any more, there is just a memory in the present. Continue reading

We need to put ourselves into perspective, by Ajahn Sumedho

Photo by Lisa Daix mustang 2011We can use our thoughts — not in order to make decisions, or to take positions, but in order to bring into consciousness the way things are, the way of our own existence on planet Earth as human beings. Using thoughtful reflection helps us to be intuitive, to observe and to accept. If we don’t develop this ability, we end up making very harsh value judgements about ourselves and the world. This makes us insensitive and harsh, and we become unable to understand things. We get the feeling that there’s nothing we can do, and we feel depressed and helpless.

In the modern Western world, we seem to have developed to a very high level this ability to see what is wrong. And it’s turning against us. We are destroying ourselves. We are unable to enjoy our lives, or experience joy. From reading the newspapers, one gets the impression that it’s too late to do anything — we’ve gone too far! We hear the harsh, hissing sounds of despair, fear and anxiety. We may believe there’s something we should do — we should change something, we should get rid of something, we should create something new. Maybe we should have a revolution? Continue reading

The Three Refuges, by Ajahn Sumedho

Stupa, Mustang. Photo © Lisa DaixI think it is very important to reflect on the significance of the refuges, or the three jewels: the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha. These refuges are some­times seen in the western world as merely traditional — and may be relegated to a ceremony which only traditional Buddhists like to have — not fully appreciating them as pointers to a reality of the moment.

We chant: Buddham saranam gacchami, dhammam saranam gacchami, sangham saranam gacchami. If you hear Sri Lankan chanting, it is more melodious. And if you go to an Indian temple, they can really get off on Buddham saranam gacchami with tablas and sitars and every­thing, and it has a good rhythm. Continue reading

Suffering Ends, by Ajahn Sumedho

Photograph from the British Library #endangeredarchives project.The third Noble Truth is the truth of cessation. Not only do we let go of suffering and desire, we know when those things are not there. And this is a most important part of meditation practice, to really know when there is no suffering. Suffering ceases, and you are still alive, still aware, still breathing. It doesn’t mean that the world has ended, that everything has become blank; it means that the suffering has ceased. The suffering ends, and there is knowledge of the end of suffering. Continue reading

Symbols, forms and conventions, by Ajahn Sumedho

Standing Buddha, Cambodia.Photo © Janet NovakThe Buddhist monk’s robe—because one is wearing it — is for mindfulness. I could see it in terms of attachment. In fact, I have been attached to robes and things like this. But the point of these things is to reflect and remind yourself of what you are doing. When I look at my robe of saffron or orange — a colour that people would seldom wear — it impinges on my consciousness and reminds me of Buddhist monks, which in turn reminds me of sangha [Community of Buddhist monks or those on the path], which is also a reminder of wakefulness. In the same way, how can the Amaravati temple be used? We can look at it aesthetically, in worldly, practical, utilitarian, terms, or we can use it as a symbol. There are Buddha-relics enshrined in the pinnacle of the spire — I enshrined them myself. So you can look up at the pinnacle, and you can look beyond it into the sky, into the spaciousness. Our consciousness can be attuned to infinity and space, and not bound by the five khandhas [Form, feeling, perception, mental activity, and consciousness.] and conditioned realm. These kinds of symbols, forms and conventions can be used for awareness rather than for developing worldly attitudes or attachments to becoming some kind of Buddhist. They can be used as forms which says: Wake up! Pay attention! Be mindful! Continue reading

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