Weathering the Wastelands

I was in a meeting of the Triratna International Council recently, which had the theme of Unity.
We studied a very interesting text, the Cetokhila Sutta, the title of which can be translated as ‘Wasteland of the Heart’ and it gives five ways in which one can fail to make spiritual progress and so will be stuck in these wastelands.

The first three are maybe obvious to many of us, in that they are doubting or lack of confidence in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. The other two may not be so clear to us and are worth thinking about. They are especially worth thinking about if you are considering taking your involvement with Triratna further. Maybe you are wondering about becoming a Mitra and are considering the importance of the criteria and whether you can understand and fulfil them.

The fourth wasteland is the teachings and training (Sikkha) that we, as Buddhists undertake. Each school of Buddhism has a specific set of teachings that it focuses upon. These are the particular take or spin that the founder or primary teacher of that school has decided suits the age, country and people that form the Sangha of that teacher. In Triratna’s case, it is the teachings of Sangharakshita that we follow and focus our spiritual path upon.

Just to complete the set, the final wasteland is being kind to your fellows who are following the same spiritual path as you. So we make an effort to keep in good contact and be in harmony with our friends in the Sangha. This particular wasteland becomes even more important as you progress within Triratna and if you become an OM the importance of this wasteland is emphasised in the acceptance verses which are taken at ordination. “In harmony with friends and companions, I accept this ordination “. Also at Ordination, the Ten Precepts are taken as vows, which include 4 precepts on Truthful, Kindly, Helpful and Harmonious communications of any sort.”

So back to the fourth wasteland, the teachings of Triratna. The world around us is full of teachings, telling us how to live our lives, promising all sorts of goals and ultimate happiness. But in becoming a Mitra we narrow down our wandering eye and start the process of focusing on Sangharakshita’s particular interpretation of the Buddha’s teachings, the Dhamma. We gain confidence in these teachings and learn to apply them to our daily life. They help to solve our difficulties and make the way ahead seem clear.

This process of focusing down on a specific set of teachings continues throughout our spiritual progress. As we move forward, it becomes clear to us that we may need only a smaller set of teachings. This is a particular take on the working out of the path of renunciation that the Buddha often teaches about. This renunciation or simplification of our lives also means simplifying all those ideas, view and thoughts that fill our minds day-to-day.

The teachings of Triratna are one of the great gifts that have been given to us by our involvement with the Centre. We are lucky that they are a well-considered set, taken from the vast range of historical and geographical teachings that have spread out from the Buddha’s first elucidation of the dhamma over 2,500 years and across the whole world. The whole of the dhamma that is available to us in the modern era is far too much for anyone to take on board. So Sangharakshita decided to distill down those enormous teachings to that which will directly help us in this modern world to progress and maybe, one day, gain Enlightenment.

In my own experience, this was definitely the case. I started looking at Buddhism over 50 years ago and even then there was a very confusing array of books on the different schools of Buddhism and the different approaches to a Buddhist path. Each book advocated strongly for its particular view and sometimes made a great effort to deride the teachings of other schools. So trying to find a clear way through all of this information was very difficult. I am sure many people are so confused by Buddhism that they take their interest no further. Luckily I came upon Triratna and Sangharakshita’s work, and I could see far more clearly the essence of Buddhism and how I needed to practise and realise its Truth.

So we have to try to gain wisdom rather than just knowledge. A wisdom that will affect our whole life, not just information, but a wisdom that will give us an integrated view of ourselves and the world with which we interact. In this way we strive-on, getting closer to Enlightenment, becoming more reliant on our own internal wisdom and letting go of the piles of external knowledge that can often shield our understanding.

I know there will be much going on in December and into the New Year for many of us. Families coming together with gifts to be thought about and bought and celebrations to prepare and attend. So in the midst of that, it can sometimes be difficult to maintain our Buddhist principles, try and stay calm and equanimous and not allow our emotions to take charge of the situation. So try to continue with your practice, continue to meditate and continue to be in touch with Sangha friends so that we continue to progress rather than take a step back.

However, no matter how the holiday period goes for you there is always the Ipswich Centre available to welcome you back, to offer you a respite and refuge in what may have been a turbulent time. Luckily in the new year (21-23 January), we are also able to offer that great reviver of our spirits a weekend Sangha retreat where we can recharge ourselves and start the year on a great footing no matter how the previous year ended. See our website for more details of the retreat and also the classes that are continuing at the Centre.

Bodhivamsa | December 2021