The Teachers, the Sangha and Ethics
The Sangha comprises of men and women, young and old, monks, nuns, nomads, travellers and householders. Men and women today, whether or ordained or householders, share an equal opportunity to live with wisdom and an enlightened way of life.
Social realities have changed in the past 2500 years. At the time of the Buddha, householders were tied into a very strict caste system. Brahmins and Kings governed the way of life of citizens. Sons followed on strictly in the way of livelihood of the father. Daughters largely submitted to the husband of choice of their parents.
Citizens have worked hard in the past 100 years or so to bring more freedom to people in society. There is still a long, long way to go.
The necessity to leave the family life for the way of life of monks/nuns no longer applies. We could describe the situation as a matter of lifestyle choice rather than thinking that only ordination offers the potential to realise a liberated way of being.
The Noble Sangha consists of the noble ones. The Sangha also consists of those practising towards living a noble way of life. A noble way of life explores and remains committed to ethics, inquiry, meditation, insight, love, compassion and wisdom. Such a way of life includes seeing and knowing liberation during daily life.
At times, clouds of pressure can drift across the sunshine of freedom.
Everybody in the Sangha, ordained or not, a noble one or not, has the task to be mindful of the way of life of others as well as oneself. Mindfulness of others includes teachers, managers, trustees, as well as people in other circles of contact. Mindfulness may lead to action.
What does this mean in practice?
We need mindfulness of our ethical concerns. The teachings do not support turning a blind eye to issues. There is a foolish view that one who knows liberation can do as they wish; they are free to do what they want. This is an unwise view. Some will try to explain away questionable behaviour as a teaching of the teacher or the retreat/centre manager. Others will not feel the confidence to raise concerns. The expression of total trust in a spiritual teacher may show a lack of wisdom.
There are various concerns that people in the Sangha, teachers, managers and other practitioners regularly express. Concerns can trigger doubt and withdrawal away from the potential benefits of the Dharma with reliance on one’s own mind state.
Our Sangha supports a Sangha without walls. We give support to people who wish to explore religious traditions, secularism, yoga, therapy and various kinds of mind/body work. We feel no need to hold people to our approach. If people deeply appreciate what we offer, then such practitioners will return to attend another one of our programmes.
What are the Ethical Concerns?
We may wish our teachers to reach an absolute level of personal purity and clarity. It is unlikely to be the case. Teachers have their human aspect who can shows expressions of body, speech and mind that generate concern. Without exception, everybody in the Sangha has the potential for further ‘self’ examination, reflection and development. The same principle applies to all spiritual teachers, yoga teachers, advaita teachers,mind-body workers and teachers of religious faith.
The Buddha developed his understanding over decades. He sounded very much like he was boasting immediately after his enlightenment. “I am the teacher supreme,” he claimed. He refused to allow women to depart from the bondage of their lives at home to enter a nomadic way of life. He later changed his mind. He expressed views about sexuality that seem narrow and dogmatic from the perspective of our culture.
The best-known Dharma/spiritual teachers, with international reputations, monks, nuns and householders and new teachers would be foolish to imply or make claims that they have nothing left to address.
People in the Sangha express various concerns about the views and behaviour of some Dharma teachers that they find questionable or unacceptable. Some concerns will matter far more for some than others. Humanly enough. These concerns arise because the views or behaviour seem incompatible with wisdom, compassion and service to all sentient beings.
Some teachers, including this wallah, have offered a genuine ‘mea culpa’ (Latin: through my fault) to the Sangha. The regret has contributed to a genuine inner change. Other teachers have ignored the ongoing concerns in the Sangha. Other teachers have ignored the inner voice of concern about what they say or do. Other teachers have rationalised behaviour or denied what was said or done. Some teachers have stopped teaching. They suffered a loss of trust and confidence in themselves or the Sangha. Sometimes, the Sangha withdrew its support for the teacher that brought about the end of the teaching. We need to keep developing and evolving. It is a confirmation of liberation.
The concerns of the Sangha around teachers and ethics include:
In alphabetical order
abusive behaviour such as humiliation, aggression and punishments
abuse of privileges, power and denial of differences between roles
avoidance of paying taxes, debts and failing to support family members
backbiting, fault finding and putting down people
borrowing money from practitioners and refusing to return
causing divisions between traditions, lineages and teachings
claims of personal attainment
claims that pursuance of sexual contact is a teaching
coldness, distance and indifference
condoning exorbitant charges for teaching
constant issues around money and comparing dana in different places
creating splits between secular/religious approaches
dogmatism, intolerance and divisiveness
eating of animals, birds and fish
feeling not heard, not understood and not supported
flirtatious expressions that generate confusion
forming a sect or cult with need to undermine Sanghas
inability of a teacher to comment on anyone’s ethical behaviour
intimidation or bullying so practitioners confrm to methods/techniques/teacher's demands
lack of wise and respectful use of dana (donations) for teachers
making claims about the historical significance of a teaching
pressurising centres and Sanghas to be invited to teach
pressurising or subtle/gross manipulation for donations/funds for personal us/projects/centres.
pursuance of self-interest, name and fame
romantic involvement by a teacher on a retreat
sexual exploitation of practitioners
support for certain wars
taking of recreational drugs
teaching to maximise income
Different practitioners will regard some of the typical concerns above as far more important than some others on the list. Different people can be affected in different ways according to their personal tendencies, values and culture.
A person or persons in the Sangha may experience a concern about a teacher or teachers. That person may need to acknowledge their concern about the state of mind and actions of the teacher. As teachers, we can grow through receiving directly the concern or the person shares their concerns with other in the Sangha. If steps are necessary, the person (s) communicates with the teacher (s), retreat managers/organisers or with the centre that the teacher visits to express these concerns.
For about 10 years, I have placed a small reminder at the end of my annual teaching schedule to remind practitioners that if they feel a genuine concern about a teacher or manager, he or she should let us know or others know. I have added that a person can also contact a Dharma centre associated with the teacher or manager if they have concerns.
We are all in a vast learning process together. We live. We learn. We gain some insights into the formations of the ‘self’ so that we can develop further as servants of the Dharma.
Just occasionally, there are time when the Sangha of practitioners misunderstands the intentions of teachers/manager/seniors in the Dharma. This means the concerns of a practitioner are mostly innacurate or totally unfounded.
In Hamlet, Act 3, we read the famous lines.
‘To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether 'tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles.’
To suffer here means to endure. Yes, it is nobler in the mind to endure the negative opinions of others rather than react and attack those who point their fingers at us without justification.
To be or not to be, that is the question.
Teachers were being human beings first.
Then to be engaged in practise.
Next for some to be human beings/teachers/practitioners
Ultimately, there is awakening not to be, not to hold to such an identity.
Wisdom, love and freedom then expresses effortlessly.
Poems from the Edge of Time
The first 12 poems
I WAKE UP
I wake this special morning. Life is now,
e’er fresh, with rest at home, with none around,
I am awake, this realm alone to bow.
I’m life! I’m here! This Earth endures surround,
adventure, find new leads today, all day,
angel abroad, a small town dweller’s course,
I wake up! Rainfall adds. Delight to say.
This sky! This world! This marvel tour de force!
Allow eyelids to flicker, sights arrive,
a new day! Dress, brush teeth, plus tea and toast,
while Brahma creates light, abundance thrive,
as daylight travels, time unbound, foremost.
A call engaged; fresh explorations near;
I have been born anew, the timeless seat,
I can't explain what my perceptions hear;
a doorbell rings and I take steps to greet.
A BROKEN PROMISE
A broken promise torments time’s heartbeat,
and shadows drive, regret what we conserve,
endless reflections given such discreet,
we cling to such despair and such reserve,
betrayal, splintered mirror, stress so deep;
our memory pains from yesterday’s cold words,
our pain exposes chaos, numb of sleep,
a stormy scene has made us act as drunkards,
loss drags on, then stays past all we can hope,
we lose our path and can’t let matters air,
a curse impacts on fortune’s way to cope;
our tight defence plus views for blame declare.
We let go mean display of painful plight,
we see the way to new beginnings light.
WHO WOULD WANT TO BE FAMOUS?
I have become a star of my own show,
I want to get myself a status high,
a possibility of what could be.
I rise and rise, then must fall, then I die.
I have no clothes to add to my person.
Why dress myself up seeking name and form?
Why does the cat walk while the dogs do bark?
Then all these thoughts become a hounding storm.
What will I be? How will I be? Will I?
What burrows down into recesses lame?
These dreams can act like sucking ticks on blood,
and scratch again on claims to gain and fame.
Is future life a type of running scared?
Why can’t we make desires come to stick?
I throw my thinking back and forth so much.
Are all my hopes and hooks a cruel trick?
This longing goes, no more this clueless view,
I wake to this endless splendour at hand,
admit beyond is closer than I thought,
such completion does shatter dreams so bland.
Unwoven realm, not far, not near,
Nor in between, not dark not clear,
Not insubstantial, solid nay,
Not words nor silence, night nor day,
Revealed not, it is not hidden,
None may enter, none forbidden.
AN ODE TO THE TSUNAMI
26/12/2004. 6.58 a.m.
We have shed tears enough to fill the ocean,
a wave of sorrow has let loose on Earth,
and tides of terror have cut in emotion,
our savaged earth, innocent, death of worth,
the sea is merciless, sunbathers gone
and cast from life untold presence of souls.
Despair and death now haunt what is upon,
who hugged the beaches, swept aside controls.
A vicious storm that choked lives around,
this beach then shook until life lost its norms,
a plague of waves, a frenzy left unbound,
a cruel fate on lungs of fallen forms,
a rage, a terror, blighted, hellish sweep,
a day to note the cost of living frail,
as those around did shake and cry and weep,
a crisis came from fury from earth so deep.
In shadows, hellish titanic subdued
a storm that beat upon their grief beside,
with waves of horror cast, a barren brood,
and mercy finds no reason, savage tide.
Are we left with anguish of endless tears?
Arrival; transient souls right here and now,
a journey ends where earth has claimed all fear,
a beached life, a gasp that can’t allow.
Is not our mother, father, loved ones dear,
our precious son and daughter bound at cost
in birth, ageing, and pain and death and fear.
Always remember pain of children lost,
the crush of hope, and this abode in deed,
the candle flickers, dying light again,
air currents pull the fish along at speed
a crash that strikes what heaven can’t contain.
While fearful lives touch sand and sorrows drunk
who shake in facing storms and winds abuse,
our thoughts ache, and a numbness we have sunk
where fishermen and tourists live reduced,
a hell did land, as hearts and souls then shook,
we bow to nature’s power, to violent force,
events took place in closing of their book,
a sunny day tourists had then mistook,
while locals beat their hands on lonely plight,
a chant of monks did drone in sombre night.
On this dry land, we worry things so small,
a paltry view in face of waves so tall.
THE VOW UPON THE ROCK
You move your love beyond your normal reach,
and hug your life into an austere fast,
renounce what forms so old that others’ preach,
to take upon this challenge. Act at last!
Where you face daily the trials anew,
and devotion knows those torments to repair,
miracles work their way along this view,
to save their soul from pain and dark despair.
The cruel wind sweeps onto souls so pure
as sunlight comes, a change far more than token,
to take away their ways, hard to endure,
their voices run round the town unspoken.
Take refuge in the offer of a cause,
a giving up of pleasure’s hold and grasp,
so nothing holds aloof, no place to pause,
and know that you are fully free at last.
You take on tasks, your voice is here to stay,
you hammer walls, resistance not at hand,
you leave yourself open on what to say,
so that you kiss the way that seems unplanned.
Do stay awake, to service dear, sublime,
the strange joy that responds on daily round,
emergence connects without fuss or chime,
where needy ones, sit and observe, draw sound.
You sing the song of nightingale’s that’s dear,
offer your vital words so ears will hear.
THE POWER OF EROS
Ah, we can make love without our bodies,
we give up this pleasure sensed between us;
it seems so deep, we remain so modest,
even for you and me without a fuss;
our yearnings hold the eyes – windows to the heart
our passion held so high, could then just start.
The passion stays, both hearts go with the wind,
a jewel shows in every text and call,
far from our suburban streets, thick skinned,
until we land in fields of flowers tall,
in your small offerings that melt the fears
and make adventure with long laughs and tears.
We draw the line, and then we act with words,
a friendship meets, whispers, our pauses here;
Eros is pulling strings and that’s absurd,
we can’t go far, nor do we get too near;
we cannot try to form the whole event,
our sensual inclines are heaven sent.
A drop of kindness tells our soul to drink,
a word can touch upon embodied play,
the play of life and smiles in such we sink,
the sun and cloud can reach to make the day;
the two hearts of us, a meeting, a must,
I could not want for more than that of us.
WHO WILL YOU LISTEN TO?
Who will you listen to when they declare,
they swirl all round you; they always know best,
and then try changing you, so then beware
upon those judges whim to fix your fate,
as though they can offer real security,
and then deceive you with maturity;
those voices will not guide, nor promise much,
you must explore the woodland’s path as such.
The wind that sways along the rolling fields,
the skylark’s song is floating down to earth,
a bird now hovers, afternoon now yields,
and horses gallop, meadows green with worth,
across the swaying grassland, hooves galore;
so listen here and catch the sound around,
to make your acts of crazy wisdom soar,
a passion beats itself upon the ground.
So dance to the drumbeat from the far shore,
and find out what you feel is wild at last,
so you can dive and see what you explore;
crestfallen, down the coalface, far below
becomes the faintest tap, a call beyond;
here you can listen, here you can respond.
If you can sense the current, learn to grow,
far from their voice that fails to correspond.
So catch the song, where judges lose their grasp,
then throw off wish to please powers around,
let go, no more of living dead for you;
so climb outside the coffin, screw and nail,
you soar above, beyond where skylarks flew,
and see expanse, a view that the gods do hail;
you live upright with vision firm and true,
and then you know what’s right and new for you.
THE FRUITS OF WHAT WE DO
A coloured fruit of past on branches hang
until the fruit exhausted season’s mould.
their heavy weight departs from branches sprang
and finds itself on land and in the cold.
A fruit is cut off now, it can’t endure,
once sight of green has turned to red and brown,
the apple mulched, soft earth becomes manure,
and sight of old will fade from view, unbound.
A shape once held, now gone, a time now out,
nostalgic memory becomes the scene,
decay starts from within and from without,
all round reminders that the fruit does wean.
Orchard becomes a dying sight on ground,
a long embrace, and sudden fall, no more,
where apples go to rot from what’s around,
and bears nothing of what had gone before.
What then took place does seems so much abrupt,
such loss of grace as one by one they fall,
a split moment, a change, and then erupt,
a sweet apple hits ground and then to sprawl.
With shock upon the soil that bears the blast,
we see the signals, crash and feel so hollow,
and know the fruit dissolves and fades so fast,
to make the seed that moves to heal our sorrow.
THE ATHEIST’S PRAYER
Let me keep heart’s focus today.
Let me find kindness to negate.
Let me give and dissolve the stain,
Let me be still in face of pain.
Let me address the issues now.
Let me end clinging’s grasp somehow.
Let me express compassion true.
So this being connects with you.
I offer you a steadfast gift.
I seek to heal the pain of rift,
respect becomes our action’s voice,
we face events and then make our choice;
we live in such a way and then rejoice.
A STEP CLOSER
I nod to eyes that make her point,
no clash between us, nor disjoint,
I felt her words under my cells;
she suffused love, her breath impels.
A smile lengthens across the gap,
a destiny without mishap,
an act as figure, mystery
a support, a song of history.
She’s seen the tunnel’s light so close,
I chance to see her soul that grows,
and now, I place her hand in fate,
I found the clue that once did wait.
TRIUMPH OF THE SEED
A place where trees hug the low land
and nothing moves, just leaves tremble,
a seasoned calm in nature’s hand,
and words find time to resemble,
as flakes from high had settled down,
this blanket goes deep down all through,
the dark and heavy chill its crown
and seems that nothing comes anew.
A seed remains in earth made dark
so fragile, there, alone, upright,
and birds of chilled wings look so stark,
this cold and eerie place that’s so tight,
a barren branch, and all suppressed,
a trap for all, and stuck with plight,
an urge to break the spell, the test,
a seed does grow with all its might.
A QUESTION OF AUTHORITY
I have made these evening statements clear
I spell it out to those who come, sit near,
The speaker utters word to lift the mask,
a duty that takes people’s lives to task.
These themes do pour out from the Dharma store,
they have a chance to land with lion’s roar,
I spell out issues to make truth unveil,
upon which the greed and fear will impale.
Thus moves the passion, views will take a form,
a chance to listen for a truth reborn,
I take away a view that’s archaic,
so then life shows a profound mosaic.
I find such words to say to make impact,
to blow away the dust in eyes in fact;
this speaker finds the tone to make it clear,
to move their heart to sense and know what’s dear.
INVITATION TO WALK ABOUT WITHIN
I don’t care men and women let you down.
I don’t care broken trust became your name,
I don’t care snide comments were thrown around,
I don’t care what you have longed disdained,
or you hide your secrets when words complain,
disputes and fights, reactions what was said,
or have spent years in someone else’s bed.
Your power makes you act, so you play your part
and such anguish, woes and hurt you have fought.
I let you walk much more around my heart.
you stroll around to visit caves you sought,
you peer at my forgotten corners’ chart,
and breathe your soul into what I can’t hide.
Let’s trust. Find out what you can see and touch
when you walk round my inner life so much.
May all beings live a poetic life
May all beings live a creative life
May all beings live with wisdom