July  1995   2538   Number 33 

A Temple Arises; Ajahn Amaro
Conducting the Orchestra of Form; George Sharp
Renunciation & Devotion: Stalk & Fragrance; Ajahn Munindo
Growing the Dhamma Tree; Lay Supporter
Supporting the Project; Krishna Padayachi
Sutta Class: Morality, Transformation & Liberation; Ajahn Sucitto
In Memory of Luang Por Jun: Pt. 1; Sister Sanghamitta
The temple: A space for Right Ritual; Ajahn Sucitto

Signs of Change:

A Temple Arises
This issue of the Newsletter coincides with the beginning of the new Temple at Amaravati. Ajahn Amaro reports on a conversation with Ajahn Sumedho who explains the place of the temple in the Buddhist monastic tradition and its function for the whole Buddhist community.

For the last ten years, many people coming up the drive to Amaravati for the first time have met with a strange experience: "Are we in the right place?", they wonder. "This looks more like an army barracks - it said AMARAVATI at the gate?" Until a stupa was constructed in the middle of the courtyard a year ago, it was only the peaceful atmosphere and the sight of the graceful standing Buddha by the bell-tower that brought the re-assurance that, "Yes, this is indeed a Buddhist monastery..."

In a mendicant tradition though, things always start out by being somewhat rough and ready austere yet uncomplicated. So, even though the monastery has had an oddly military aura all this time, the standard for our way of life is to be grateful; for whatever is offered - however rudimentary it may be as a form of shelter, food or clothing etc. - and we have been joyfully content to make do with whatever was here. This was the standard established by the Lord Buddha in the earliest days of the Sasana and it pertains as much today as it did then.

As time goes by, however, a natural evolution occurs, occasioned usually by the interest of people in hearing and practising the Dhamma. For example, by the end of the Buddha's life he and his disciples had gone from being a small cluster of itinerant samanas, to a vast and well- developed community, with large monasteries dotted around the Middle Country of India; some of them, like the Jetavana at Savatthi, and the Gabled Hall in the Great Wood at Vesali, comprising large complexes of buildings.

In the religious world there always seems to have been a dialogue between the call to simplicity of living on the one hand, and the benefits of settlement and the provision of ample access to spiritual teachings, and places to learn and practise meditation, on the other.
I have seen this same pattern unfold many times in my own experience as a monk - Ven. Ajahn Chah's monastery, Wat Nong Pah Pong, has grown from its inception forty years ago, when there was just Ven. Ajahn Chah with his robes and bowl staying in a forest, to a great spiritual centre, used by many thousands of people as a place of meditation and inspiration. And from that same nucleus have sprung well over a hundred other branch monasteries in Thailand, as well as all of those that have been established around the world. Many of these centres house large numbers of monastics, serve groups of hundreds of people and also act as a force for goodness in the world around all from the very humblest of beginnings.

Now, to speak in this way is, hopefully, not to give the impression that we are some sort of missionary society, or a spiritual property development corporation. Rather it is to outline the natural efflorescence of the Triple Gem, once it finds fertile ground and starts to settle somewhere. In the religious world there always seems to have been a dialogue between the call to simplicity of living on the one hand, and the benefits of settlement and the provision of ample access to spiritual teachings, and places to learn and practise meditation, on the other. When a healthy balance is struck neither of these two qualities need be compromised, in fact they can benefit each other. If things get out of balance then they can veer off, either into a fixation on austerity and hardship, or, at the other extreme, aiming towards grandiose structures and expansionism simply as ends in themselves.

The Middle Way above and between these two is what we have endeavored to follow in our nurturing of Amaravati over the last ten years, and in particular with regard to the foundation of the new Temple here. Our effort has always been to provide an environment for residents and for visitors that is both inspiring and refreshing to be in, without being wasteful with resources, and to make the place somewhere which is a calm and fertile haven for all.

The essence of our life here is the Path - sila, samadhi and panna - but is has both an inner and an outer aspect to it. A good illustration of these inner and outer qualities that comes to mind is the origin of the word panna - 'temple' itself, and the word 'contemplation' which is derived from it. The former word comes from the Latin Templum, meaning a place for the divination of spiritual insights. Contemplare, the source of the word 'contemplation', means to clearly mark out such an area. Nowadays, in English, when we contemplate something, it means to clearly mark out a subject for consideration and reflection. The stability of heart that is provided by virtue and self-discipline generates the inner templum, the environment within which panna, reflective wisdom, can develop and be used. This same environment is sustained on an external level by the protective values and life-style of the Buddhist community as a whole; and is particularly exemplified by the monastic enclosure and the spiritual well-being of it's community, derived from the practices of devotion and meditation centered around its main shrine and meditation hall - the Temple.

The inner and the outer thus reflect each other: as the inner refuge of the Triple Gem is cultivated, its development is supported by and is reflected in the environment around it. If purity, radiance and peacefulness are being nurtured within, it helps to be in surroundings which support that. And, if those qualities are indeed our guiding spirit, the way in which we choose to build and maintain our environment will be informed by that same essence.

Just as the Triple Gem is a refuge for everyone who wishes to make use of it, Amaravati is also a place for everyone who sees a value in the qualities it maintains. Many people pass through here, and our aim is for the new Temple to be a sanctuary that symbolises for us all the characteristics of the human heart that are most worthy of cultivating. It is to be a place of purity, radiance and peacefulness. A place which will inspire and encourage the spiritual life and whose spaciousness and dignity will be supportive of all types of spiritual practice. A temple of this nature is a crucible wherein contemplation, serenity and recollection are crystalised and given the chance to realise their full potential in our lives. In short it will be an outward manifestation of the beauty and strength of the Triple Gem.

In Buddhist tradition the monastery is the nucleus of the spiritual life of the whole 'four-fold assembly' - lay people and monastics both male and female - it is everybody's place. Accordingly we very much hope that all of us who value Amaravati will find some way of joining in and helping with the creation of this sanctuary for us all. When we each play a part in building something, an enduring quality becomes invested in the structure itself; it becomes an expression of our own aspiration and commitment, and resonates that to us. To develop that which is wholesome, and to maintain it in being is a naturally joyous activity, again both in the action and in the recollection of it.

The temple at Amaravati aims to be a blending of all our best efforts and energies, roused with these same wise intentions. It will also reflect, over the decades and centuries to come, the harmony of the elements that we all bring to it. In a similar way the design of the Temple and its cloister aims to bring together a well-balanced blend of styles which respect both their location in the English countryside, and also the Asian ancestry of our Buddhist heritage. The Temple and the courtyard before it are to be constructed principally of wood and brick, with tile roofs throughout. The spire of the main building, the lineaments of the shrine, and also the interior space, however, will bear more of the serene mark of our Thai architectural heritage.

It will be a beautiful and noble structure but, as we go about bringing it all together, it will also be helpful to bear in mind that, from the Buddhist point of view, the means and the end of any endeavour are unified; i.e. the way in which we go about doing something will dictate the nature of the results. If we wish to have a true temple, a sacred space of serenity and joy, then it is up to us to bring these qualities to the process of creating it. If we determine to go about the creation of the building with clarity and calm, and take the trouble to delight in the efforts that are being made and what is being given to it, then we will truly en-joy the whole process - literally 'filling it with joy'. The Temple will then be able to echo this joyful effort to us, and to all the generations down the years.