“There is a beautiful place in the mind, peaceful, bright and aware, that shows itself when you put everything down. It is free to all who undertake the search.”
– Phra Cittasamvaro Bhikku
For most of the last eleven years I’ve lived in Bangkok, and it’s here that my interest in Buddhism started. But to be honest at first there was very little support on this path for an English (only!) speaker like myself. That all changed three or four years ago when the Venerable Phra Cittasamvaro Bhikku delivered his first series of rains-retreat talks at the Baan Aree Library and Community centre.
To accompany the talks Phra Cittasamvaro, popularly known as Phra Pandit, set up the Littlebang website, which he still runs and which is the main centre for information on English-language Dharma events here. From the website a real Sangha has emerged, with a regular weekly meditation session very kindly hosted by the gorgeous Ariyasom Villa, frequent retreats, social events, and a growing network of Dharma friendships.
That network also encompasses the Bangkok Hanmaum Seon Centre. The Littlebang site regularly makes announcements of upcoming Seon Club meetings, and last year Phra Cittasamvaro joined Chong Go Sunim in delivering a joint talk on Buddha-nature at the Bangkok Seonwon, which was well attended and which presented a fascinating insight into areas where these two wonderful Buddhist traditions overlap and agree.
The reason I mention all this today is to thank Phra Pandit and the Littlebang Sangha for their support of our English-languge Seon Club over the past year, and to point out a very wonderful blog post made by Phra Pandit today in response to the news many people may have seen coming from Bangkok regarding recent political violence. I know that I’ve had a few emails from some very kind people asking if I’m okay, and today’s Littlebang post would be a wonderful response.
“For most of us here the only real impact is loss of that precious Skytrain service” Phra Pandit writes, “and some inconvenience travelling around. In terms of danger, you are far more likely to lose your life or get injured on any normal day in a taxi ride, than you are by any violence in Bangkok protests.” And I agree with this completely. You are more likely to come to harm crossing the road in Bangkok, even breathing the air, than at the hands of political demonstrators.
But this has always been the case in my experience. Of all the hundreds of demonstrations I attended when younger, when I was very much a left-wing activist, the vast majority were perfectly peaceful. And when violence did break out, as deplorable and as awful as it is for the victims, the chances of someone being caught up in it who did not want to be is very remote indeed.
Phra Pandit addresses just this I think when he compares the numbers involved in demonstrations (the Red and Yellow Shirts) with the numbers of people who regularly attend Dharma events in the city – ‘the white shirts’. “Much as the protests grab headlines” he writes, “there is much more going on that is wholesome, but does not get headlines. Dhamma is greater here than any political movement.”
But Phra Pandit’s post today isn’t just about reassuring people of the safety of Bangkok or countering the usual sensationalism of the news media; he takes from the political situation here a Dharma message that applies to each and every one of us. If you want real change, he suggests, using the Buddha’s analogy of the two acrobats, the place to start is within.
“By doing so” Phra Pandit writes, “you learn, bit by bit, part by part, about your own motivations, and thoughts. You observe from the angle of a witness, and let wisdom bring a growth in consciousness.” And I think he is completely right in this. It’s not that the practitioner drops concern for and engagement with the world, but that he or she is re-orientated.
Starting from the basis of one’s own fundamental wisdom, the Buddha-nature within, engagement on social and political issues becomes not the addiction to political strife and pushing of views that Phra Pandit describes, and that I experienced as a young radical, but more like the hand of compassion that reaches for the pillow in the night. In the words of Thich Nhat Hanh:
Please come with me to the war zones
to stop the killing and bombing.
Please walk with me to the places of sickness and suffering,
bringing compassionate nectar and medicine.
Please walk with me to the realm of the hungry ghosts
bringing the Dharma food of understanding and love.
Please walk with me to the realm of hell
in order to cool the heat of afflictions.
Please walk with me to places of conflict
in order to remove hatred and anger
and help the source of love to flow again.
“If you live harmoniously, knowing that there is nothing that is not yourself, you will be able to take everything in the world as material for your spiritual practice. If you are truly able to live like this, your every thought and word will manifest in the physical world. At this stage, you will understand the meaning of ‘the all-reaching hands and feet of Buddha’.”
– Seon Master Daehaeng Sunim