April  1997   2540   Number 40 

Boundary of Freedom; Ajahn Sucitto
Cultivating Discernment; Ajahn Lee Dhammadharo
These Brown Robes: These Shaven Heads; Sister Thaniya
Young People on Retreat; Various Impressions
A Question of Balance; Ajahn Candasiri
Signs of Change:

Boundary of Freedom
In this Dhamma talk, the first to be given in the new temple at Amaravati, Ajahn Sucitto, using the image of space enclosed, points to the use of inner and outer restraint for understanding the nature of mind and our relationship to the whole.

This is the first public Dhamma talk to be given here; then tomorrow there will be the Kathina, people coming together, bringing a sense of delight in the Dhamma as we share our common aims and aspirations. So these are great ways to inaugurate this temple. The temple is also the sima, which means it has a boundary within which we can give full ordinations, that also makes it a special place - it's a consecrated place.

The word, 'temple', itself is from a Latin word for a place that people would regard as holy and within which you would contemplate. So 'temple' and 'contemplate' go together; to contemplate means to stand inside a temple and to observe the movements of nature. That's a very appropriate way to consider what we do here: we observe the world of nature – the things that arise and cease in the mind, the comings and goings - not to be fascinated by them but to observe their pattern. We are trying to see what it (the pattern) shows us. That is going to be different for everybody, people will be watching different things dependent on their own kamma, but the beauty of it is that the flow of the process has a unity - even though it's diverse in form, it has a unity in terms of its meaning. The meaning seen inside a Buddhist temple is that the pattern of nature tends towards Dhamma, towards liberation. Here we really are able to contemplate the movements of nature. This particular building can help us to do that, and we try to fulfill contemplation, through using the Buddha's skillful means. His Dhamma is to create our own temple, our own place of refuge in our hearts, where we can observe what's coming and going, and derive meaning from it.
We can assume that you can just do this by kind of opening up or relaxing or being natural, but actually the process of contemplation is a very fine discipline and it requires boundaries. So then sense restraint has a higher purpose than just something ideological; it's about sustaining factors that lead to awakening.
I think it's useful just to remember how such a refuge is created. We can assume that you can just do this by kind of opening up or relaxing or being natural, but actually the process of contemplation is a very fine discipline and it requires boundaries. You have to set something up. This takes quite a bit of effort, it takes skill and fundamental practices which should never be discarded. It's a sign of a decline in our value system that some of the basic practices that the Buddha taught don't naturally resonate with us. We resonate to ideas like love, freedom, liberation, enlightenment - but the experience of these is based on sense restraint (samvara) which as an idea may have a slightly choking feel. Another basic standard is hiri-ottappa, which is often translated as a sense of fear of blame, or of doing things that are wrong. Then there is faith (saddha), which people often think is some kind of belief or fuzzy hope. Yet if you consider these terms and understand what they mean, you see how you can't really get by without them.

One thing that causes the destruction of Dhamma is when there's no sense of hiri-ottappa. Hiri-ottappa is regarded as the guardian; if people have no sense of conscience, sensitivity, or concern whether things hurt or affect other people, if there is no realisation that their acts and deeds stain their lives or bless their lives, then there are not going to be any values. If there are no values there's no firmness; if there's no firmness, there's no boundary, no discipline and no sense of aim or purpose. It's just self-interest that prevails. In society you can see that there is a force that continually erodes the sense of hiri-ottappa; it is self-gratification, and it destroys people's sense of personal authority or integrity, they become dissolute with no firmness, sense of purpose or effort or ability to rise up. Sense restraint or samvara is that which enables us to find a balance. This sense of balance may be a better way of considering sense restraint, because there's a puritan, repressive element in the culture and, so when we think of a term like sense restraint, many people interpret this as a fanatical asceticism. Because of this, some people regard Buddhist monasticism as a bit soft. They can think, "Well they've got a car, they've got heating and they have hot showers; What kind of monks are these? What kind of nuns are these? They wear socks! If they were really serious then they'd just be eating dry bread and a bowl of soup, and shivering and freezing and totally joyless - the way a good religious person should be." People who have no intention themselves of ever doing any of these things are able to project such fantasies upon religious orders! However, the Buddha specifically and continually kept refuting that view, stating that practice is not about asceticism, but about balance, finding a balance, knowing a balance.

When you see the way in which samvara or balanced sense restraint is supposed to be sustained, it becomes clearer; there are five factors* that should sustain samvara. One is a sense of one's moral training (the precepts), one is mindfulness, one is insight knowledge, one is patience and one is a sense of persistence - to keep going at it. So that gives a very different flavour of what samvara is about, it means that actually you are using sensory input to establish mindfulness, moral standards and insight. So then sense restraint has a higher purpose than just something ideological - it's about sustaining factors that lead to awakening. Otherwise people can practise various kinds of restraint which aren't necessarily restraint dependent on mindfulness, insight, patience and persistence - they may do it dependent upon guilt or fear or aversion, or things which are directly unwholesome.
The areas in which restraint is to be developed are also significant. There's restraint in terms of the precepts; restraint in terms of one's livelihood - that is; we are not greedy and obsessive in our livelihood, we are not looking to be the top or the supreme power or the richest; restraint in terms of what requisites one uses, one's appetite if you like for the basic necessities of life; and, most significantly, the thing which covers all the rest of it is restraint over what are called indriya.

Indriya literally mean the things that lead or dominate. These are the senses - the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, the sense of touch, and of course the mind. Then there are the psychological factors of mind such as happiness, unhappiness, energy or lack of it. Even things like femininity and masculinity are considered to be things that we may be dominated by; if we're led by femininity then we're women, if we're led by masculinity we're men. So restraint over the indriya means that you're not emphasising, or being obsessed with femininity or masculinity, either in yourself or another person, or any kind of stereotype or archetype. Such identification always leads to an imbalance - to a lack of mindfulness, a lack of insight, a lack of patience, a lack of real fruition - it just creates further conflicts.

As you practise with samvara, with restraint, it actually gets you in touch with what you're really experiencing. All you've got, actually, from day one is sense input: the five external senses and the mind, and everything else is really coming through that. That's what you're in touch with, and whatever your religion, culture or philosophy, you've always got to come back to those sense channels. So if you're developing a sense of balance with them, you're getting right up close to those channels and being responsible for them, witnessing them. You're aware of what they do, you notice when you're being carried away with them or shutting them down, you're aware of trying to find the right balance to be able to be mindful, listen, receive and not be obsessed. You could even summarise practice as just that much, as really skillfully employing this factor of samvara.

Of course as you get to learn about it and feel it out, you find that the beauty of establishing the boundary of sense restraint is that you can drop all the other boundaries. The ‘other' boundaries are 'me' and 'you' and are marked with fear and worry, with what 'I' want and pleasure; with death and otherness, known and unknown. Some people are such a mass of boundaries that there's no space left in the temple of their mind. So of course for someone like that it's very difficult to take on the idea of establishing more restraint; already they've used a boundary as part of the process of fragmentation and division and are barely aware of it. So it's important to be clear about what samvara is about, it's not there to divide, to repress, to avoid, but to establish a clear space. It's like these temple walls: you could say they shut other things out, but that isn't their main purpose. Their main purpose is to establish this space which is suitably peaceful for contemplation. And that's what sense restraint's about - it establishes a kind of inner authority.

It's really sad when you see the results of this faculty being so little spoken of or cultivated in the world. There are many people who have no foothold, no authority, no personal dignity, no calm space in themselves, they're just blown around and possessed by whatever particular energy passes through the mind. As restraint gets worn down or ignored by a culture you begin to see the results - a lot of delinquency and motiveless, meaningless violence. Somebody picks up an automatic rifle and goes down and sprays a shopping mall, wipes out thirty people. Why? They didn't know them; they were just overwhelmed by some kind of fantasy or fear or bitterness. In this century, the number of totalitarian regimes there have been that have just wiped out millions and millions of people, maybe fifty million people or more. That's a lot of people. Somebody gets power and they don't have any balance, so all that power just goes into self; but the self is flawed, paranoid - it needs power. When a mind that has no balance, no ability to experience some sense of inner harmony or harmony with other beings or with the world, it has to seek power and a position; it does this by repudiating everybody else. You can see this pattern occurring: from the level of the spoilt child who has never heard the word ‘no', who's never been contained or taught to contain themselves - to the power-mad politician who has got an army behind him and thinks that the word 'no' doesn't apply to them any more. The result of this kammic trend is human bodies that are fitted with sense faculties but not really in the human level of consciousness, in the spiritual sense of the word; just beings possessed by demons, by hungry ghosts, by fear, anger and bitterness. Why? They have sense faculties like everybody else, they have minds, they have happiness and unhappiness like everybody else; they can think, dream and want like everybody else but there's no ability to handle it, so it just takes over and blows them apart. So this matter of sense restraint is a very significant one. Finding the balance makes us human, it makes us value being human and rejoice in it; it enables us to see each other as humans and rejoice in that.

The whole sense of Sangha is that we live within a certain sense of definition and restraint - but it's not a restraint that is supposed to shut people down, or to cause repressive fragmentation. The word, Sangha, means 'assembly', or that which sticks together. So you can use it very specifically - you can say 'Bhikkhu Sangha' or 'Samana Sangha' - or you can talk about the Sangha of the four kinds of disciples of the Buddha: lay women, lay men, the nuns, the monks; or you can talk about it as the company of those who have practised and are firmly committed to practice. In general, it means a kind of bonding and an empathy experience. So the whole aim of Sangha is that within whatever personal discipline, restraint and responsibility we are taking on, we are also learning to let go of the inner boundaries, the 'me' and 'you'; we are trying to learn to share and to listen to each other, to empathise, respect and be sensitive to each other. These things are fundamental.

When we talk about the monastic form then, actually, this is the monastic form; monastic form is sense restraint, sharing and kindness. Mendicancy means that we live in a relationship with lay people; we take dependence, we live in a relationship with each other; we live a life of sense restraint. We live according to Vinaya - that's monastic form, it's just that. Yet often when people talk about monastic form, they say it's about hierarchy; they say it's about being junior or senior. Then you actually begin to see it like that, and use it as something that emphasises divisions, say, between men and women and, 'I want what he or she has got.' The mind is able to throw up smoke screens of resentment and frustration. And something in us creates smoke screens to cloak its own foolishness, its own belief that somehow or another following instinct is going to make me happier or more free. But it doesn't. The instinctive perception creates a separation between 'me' and 'you', 'me' and 'the world', 'me' and 'it'; I am one side of it, and something I want is outside of me so I have to go and get it. Then when I've got it there'll be something else I can want that is outside of me. Pleasure is a boundary. Pain is also a boundary - I don't want, so I have to create a wall to separate myself from it. Basically, the boundary that is continually established is 'self' and 'world', and that self is either trying to find something in the world, trying to establish its own world, or trying to get away from the world; it's neither happy within it nor happy without it.

As meditators, as contemplatives, our practice is to experience how 'the world' and the 'self' arise; what gives rise to the feeling of 'me' as somehow distinctly separate from everything else, and how that supports the experience of the world as something out there. Pleasure and pain, loss and gain, fear, worry, need and time - all these forces create this in the mind. Yet when you actually experience them in the moment, then it's just this - it's not 'me' in here and 'them' out there - it's just this particular experience of consciousness.

When you feel very self-conscious or frightened, the world takes on a particular characteristic that is hostile, it's threatening; or the self can feel inadequate or guilty or foolish. Or maybe it's the other way round, and the world is delightful, exciting, fascinating, thrilling; it can take on that particular quality, and when it's like that the sense of self is excited, stimulated, bonded to it and we want more of it. You can see that what strengthens the sense of 'the world' and the ‘self' is some kind of obsessive passion that takes over - that becomes the indriya; and the boundaries it creates make us feel locked up, shut out or confused. That is the boundary that you are learning to do without; you can work against it. Sense restraint gives you the tools and the facilities to be able to do that - it breeds virtue and mindfulness and insight and patience and right effort.

The other thing about sense restraint and about Sangha is that it's a personal responsibility. This needs to be emphasised, because we tend to feel that such things are expected of us. We can make restraint into socialised behaviour patterns which are supported by approval or disapproval; you get punished or looked down upon if you do this or if you don't do that. You end up feeling that any kind of restraint is something that is enforced by an element of fear or guilt or social disapproval; rather than taking it is as a personal responsibility, you see it as something you do when people are watching. But of course if it is like this it is of very little value, because it is not supported by mindfulness or insight.

One can recognise, certainly in religious life, that a good many people practise restraint from that particular angle. Then when the doors are unlocked the sense restraint is abandoned, because it is only there to impress the group or because of the fear of punishment. But when taken personally and responsibly, when we can find balance through it, then we begin to recognise what personal authority really means - as distinct from power. When you have restraint over the indriya and are able to balance them, then you are not possessed by the senses, by moods, by gains and losses, or by some particular aspect of your body or your mind; and being dispossessed of those, then what's left is the joy, the freedom, the gladness of a free mind.