By Bani Shorter
Among the many books about Buddhism that have recently been brought to my attention this one is unique. It is not a text; it neither exhorts, compares nor expounds. Quite simply, it opens a way through the landscape of life, ageing and death. Reading, one joins the author of the Way. It is vivid; it is honest; it is profound. All, all flows naturally, revealing a terrain of trust.
The author is a Buddhist monk of some twenty years' experience in the Theravadin tradition of the forest monks of Thailand. Though originally from New Zealand he is now abbot of Ratanagiri, a monastery located at Harnham in Northumberland, England. But what he writes carries no connotation of something acquired or learned. It resonates with the power of authenticity. He appears to be one with the fabric of that which he expresses. He intervenes with his presence without having to overstate it. The thread of his text subsides into an untimed sequence and although, undoubtedly, it is the product of sustained attention, it conveys a refreshingly spontaneity, directness and compassion.
Compassion, that is, which is focused upon the dilemma of being human and being face to face with realities affecting us here and now. There is no avoidance or escape into the mists of exotic and esoteric practice. Rather, the author speaks of ancient truths in the language of now affirmed and reinforced by personal experience. So the message of the book is equally relevant to monks, nuns, lay Buddhists and other companions of the Way from whatever spiritual traditions they come. The simplicity in which it is expressed attests to its availability.
The book is not intended as a beginner’s manual, however. Here there is no attempt to update a tradition thousands of years old by equating it either explicitly or symbolically with modern teachings, technical or scientific. Neither is the aim to proselytise any more than to substitute a methodology for original insight. Instead, with seemingly artless invention and without guile, the speaker invites us to see and claim that of the Buddha’s wisdom and perceptions recognisable in each of us. Yet, although these are the words of an elder monk, abbot and teacher, speaking from the perspective of a Jungian analyst, I find there is nothing here which is inconsistent with the findings of Depth Psychology. He has managed to surmount the difficult barrier of language and theoretical comparison by integration rather than an attempt to dissect and analyse what is experienced as an inherent unity of the person.
It might have been easier, as it appears to have been for many others, to differentiate, instruct or advise. But Dhamma talks, such as these originally were, are given in an atmosphere suggesting we’re all in it together. The aim of a speaker at such time is to awaken awareness for possibilities of knowing and a collection of such talks should always carry the resonant sound of a message waiting to be heard. Reading these pages, the reader hears this; apposite words resonate and take root in conscious process.
So one can open these pages with excitement and feel anticipation of inner discovery. Here emphasis is placed upon journeying rather than arrival. Whether the one who journeys be old or young, he or she will not be admonished to take the Way or be made to feel ashamed of having stepped aside from the Way but, quite simply, the challenge is to approach the Way and recognise the possibility that it has parallels with one’s own. Yet, this would not be possible without Ajahn Munindo’s communication of his own evident respect for the Way. With a sense of wonder so deep as to be engaging and ever-transitional, he beckons us to being. He speaks directly and matter-of-factly to persons in a manner that is mindful of the path each has tried and the suffering that has entailed. Trials are not trivialised; instead, they are dignified through acknowledgement of their relevance.
There is something incorruptible about what is contained here, a wisdom of enduring value presented so quietly, so directly so as to be available to any of us. For some it becomes a summons to be practice; for other is amplifies insights already intuitively grasped. For still others it offers an introduction to process. There is a solidity about the book that engenders trust. It addresses live and decisive moments on the journey of and individual. Such wisdom is not enduring because it is Buddhist. It becomes enduring because it speaks of day-to-day existence and its connection with the emergence of meaning.
Edinburgh December 1997
Bani Shorter is a senior analyst who lives in Edinburgh. She was trained at the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich, Switzerland and in addition to working as a consultant she also lectures and writes. Her most recent book is entitled Susceptible to the Sacred.
I feel honoured and delighted to write an introduction for this valuable book, The Gift of Well-Being. Ajahn Munindo and I have known each other for almost 22 years. We met in North-east Thailand at Wat Nanachat, a forest monastery established for Westerners following the teachings of the renowned meditation master Venerable Ajahn Chah. When I arrived there, I found a small group of dedicated Buddhist monks practising the Way of Awakening under the guidance of Ajahn Sumedho, the senior western disciple of Ajahn Chah.
I remember thinking that when I first met Munindo he looked very thin. I was touched by his willingness to endure great hardship for the sake of realising a deeper understanding of ‘the way things are’. His enthusiasm for contemplation and the wonderful potential of inner transformation helped to fire my own aspiration and commitment to energetically cultivate the Way. In retrospect though I think I was most touched by his friendliness and capacity for empathy in the midst of his own difficult struggle. Soon, I too undertook the training, and as junior monks at the end of the line, we became friends.
There were many challenges in adapting to the austere lifestyle of the forest monk. We ate one meal a day, a diet of often coarse and extremely spicy food. The rigorous schedule of getting up every morning at 3 am, the barefoot alms rounds into the local villages, the cracked and sensitive feet we frequently found ourselves with, the weekly all night meditation sessions, the ubiquitous diarrhoea and various tropical fevers and infections, the hear, the damp, the endless hours of sitting cross-legged on hard concrete floors, the poor complaining knees that weren’t trained for this in our culture (Munindo had both knees operated on in Thailand), the ever present creepy-crawlies of the forest that bit, stung, nibbled or invaded our hurts, all these conditions and more generated a formidable array of difficulties just on the physical plane. Learning to live in community with many different personalities within the rigorous monastic discipline was not easy. The human mind is capable of rebelling in so many tantalising and exasperating ways, and believe me it did.
One might naturally ask why anyone would persevere with this seemingly alien and uncomfortable way of life far away from home and all that is familiar. In the midst of what might look crazy and hellish arose many moments of joy, a powerful bond of spiritual friendship with one’s fellow seekers, and a deepening trust in the value of living simply, heartfully, with awareness. For a while in those early days Ajahn Munindo and I were responsible for ringing the morning gong, and we then slept in the meditation hall to be close by. Late into the night we had many opportunities to share in the hopes and disappointments, the joys and the despairs of our quest. The Buddha once said wholesome friendship is the whole of the Holy Life, and I appreciated then as I do now the immense value of a good friend to help remind us of our potential for realising genuine well-being.
Let me suggest to the reader that you remember this is not really a written book. It is a collection of talks. As you read allow yourself to be open and hear the phrases, the life stories, the situations, the scriptural references, the pregnant silences. This was very much Ajahn Chah’s style of teaching. Ajahn Munindo is following in this beautiful tradition on induction. As we listen it is not important to remember or understand everything. We allow ourselves to be touched, listening inwardly to the words and the spaces in between. Just keep reading and listening.
As I hear these talks I feel many moments of recognition resonating deeply in my heart, reaffirming that timeless sense of ease and knowing that is the essence of awareness. There are many treasures here. Essentially Ajahn Munindo is introducing us to the limitless resources of the inner realm of contemplation. He reminds us that in never having met someone who fully trusted themselves, we can become disabled. We then misguidedly seek security in the various conditioned tendencies of our minds, often identifying with the powerful process of judging, that deeply destructive obsessions with ‘getting it right’, robbing us of ever really appreciating how it is. This is contrasted with what we might call the spiritual path of finding well-being and identity in awareness itself.
Meeting someone like Ajahn Chah who was completely at ease with the world triggered something in those who met him, introducing us to the possibility of that well-being within our own heart. Ajahn Munindo insightfully observes that we yearn for this “introduction into that place within ourselves that is genuinely trusting and trustworthy.” Having received that marvellous gift from our teacher, he is now celebrating the privilege of offering it through his own life.
I am reminded of a time 20 years ago when I was very depressed and discouraged, and I went to see Ajahn Chah. My meditation practice seemed like a complete failure. I was sick, weak, filled with rampant desires, and riddled with doubts. Ajahn Chah said I reminded him of a certain donkey that was enamoured with the beautiful sounds that are crickets made. Wanting to make that lovely music himself, he diligently studied the habits of crickets. He saw that they ate dew drops. Excitedly, having discovered the secret, the donkey began licking dewdrops, by the hundreds. Having worked for quite a while consuming countless dew drops, he figured he could make real music now. So he opened his mouth, took in a deep breath – anticipating the wonderful result – and out it came.
Well, we know what happened. The poor donkey was so discouraged. Blindly wanting and not wanting, we miss the magic of turning within to the nature of our own body/mind, just as it is. The teachings presented here skilfully empower us to trust our own sound, to listen and learn to respect our own voice. They invite us to compassionately hold the struggle, the joys and the sorrows., with a non-judgemental awareness. The transformation that follows is a mystery.
“We already knew we were suffering, but had some idea it was an indictment against us. As the insight of non-resistance to ‘struggle’ begins to sink in, our whole life changes and frustrations take on a different appearance. They are no longer enemies to be conquered; they are entranceways into an Ancient Path.”
May you enjoy this book and discover the treasures of your own heart.
Kittisaro January 1988
By Bani Shorter
THE RITUAL OF SEPARATION
WE HAVE WHAT WE NEED
Typing: Quảng Đại Thắng (Brendan Trần)