2020 Ajahn Ñāṇiko

Pilgrimage of life

[Transcription notes (with editorial liberties) by Peter Crimmin.]

00:00 Hello. Greetings. Mention of Gil Fronsdal’s and Anandabodhi’s talks.

01:30 Describe your pilgrimage – individual pilgrims describe their plans. What do bicycles mean to you?

  • Feeding the hungry! Visiting childhood locations and reflecting on the past.
  • Remembering the sacred inside. Was planning to walk the Camino in Spain this year, but instead putting myself in nature. Death contemplations.
  • Visited Spirit Rock with my dog. Sat at the gate and watched the horses. Climbed into hills and watched SRMC from above.
  • Visited Dhamadarhini. Perspective on physical progress with improved fitness. Chanting reflections of universal well-being. Attentiveness to the cycling technique. Made offerings. The nuns came out and chanted.
  • Theme of gratitude. Helpful these past months. Looking for ways to express thankfulness. Made a video along these lines.

14:00 End of Vassa – I have my own pilgrimage. October full moon is the end of the 3-month vassa period. Beginning of 7 days of kathina ceremonies.

16:00 White Buddha in the Sri Lankan style – used annually for this ceremony for over 20 years. A deer entered the unattended statue and began eating carnations on a wreath around the image, tipped over the buddha and smashed it into a thousand pieces.

18:00 Meticulously gathering the pieces. Two senior monks consider reassembling the image.

19:00 Pilgrimage of fixing the image. Reflection of life, when you fail and think you cannot put life back together. Profound contemplation to repair the Buddha.

20:00 Dovetails well with samadhi and wisdom. Not letting go of aim and purpose. If you start something, you will finish.

20:30 Big pieces seem easy. But the sequence of assemble is also important.

21:00 Empty spaces in the assembly.

24:00 Finished assembly – just before the Dharmawheels virtual pilgrimage. Review of the experience.

  • The bad omen of the busted image, looking at the repaired image with its cracks, seeing the new character and aliveness.
  • No one has a perfect life. Everyone has dissonance.
  • This is when practice comes alive. When things are bad and there’s no hope. Just carry on.
  • On a pilgrimage, keep going.
  • In meditation, keep breathing.

26:00  the Samadhi aspect – Focus on the undertaking. Determination to follow through, do whatever needs to be done, and to finish what was started.

26:30 the Wisdom aspect – how to patch the holes. How to move forward in certain areas especially if we wish they were different (when they cannot be different). Patience to not rush in. To look carefully at what is actually happening.

27:30 the spirit of pilgrimage – the broken Buddha analogy. When things fall apart, picking up the pieces and seeing what can be done. Regardless of the results, we learn. We develop.

28:30 3 months from start to finish – looking at what remains to be done.

30:00 Reference to Gil Fronsdal’s dharma talk.

30:30 the Feather teaching – a native American teaching: a new feather has a smooth surface. The mistakes we make in life are like the fraying of the surface. The vanes of a feather get unglued as the barbs get torn apart. We try to sort things out, get things together, to reform ourselves. It’s like smoothing the feather’s surface. They come together, but not perfectly. Our mistakes are still in our hearts.

34:00 the mental state of failure – even well-intentioned failure. Handling criticism and the sense of failure. Dealing with the irreparable, what cannot be undone. That feeling of dukkha.

35:30 perfect monks – Sometimes it’s better to learn how to fail. You see this in monasteries sometimes. A monk ordains and seems perfect. They can sit for hours. Then… something happens and the monk experiences devastating failure.

39:00 problems in the world – the best opportunity to practice is when everything we take for granted disappears. At the monastery, a socially-distanced kathina ceremony.

39:00 Pilgrimage alone…together. We support each other. Connections develop with mutual support.

41:00 world-wide dukkha – everything is falling apart. What do we have to work with? How to preserver? Using our samadhi.

42:00 Physically distanced, socially connected.

43:00 Elders – zoom gathering of world-wide senior western monks. Staying connected as a dharma community.

44:00 Question – did you ever think you wouldn’t be able to reassemble the Buddha rupa?

48:00 mantras – when there’s an obstacle, and you ask the Buddha for help, the buddha can only meet you half way.

50:00 Pull up, do your best, and let the dharma do the rest.

50:45 Question about the feather analogy – Say more about things never going back the way they were?

The story came from a local woodworker. You cannot undo suffering. Things have the shape they have. But you can slowly, carefully, and incrementally mold into a new shape. Frustration is a part of learning. Sometimes you need to set things aside and take stock. Like when you get lost in a forest, the first step is to sit down and get your bearings.

57:00 Staying the course. Ajahn is 3 years into his position of abbot at Abhayagiri. Ajahn considered bailing out, but stayed the course. The tension was difficult. Ajahn Passano’s comment, “If you didn’t have that tension I’d be worried.”

59:00 Leadership is not easy. It’s a big monastic community. Young celebate monks. Things come up. Difficulties arise. Criticism is made. Empathy for world leaders… even for terrible leaders.

1:01:00 Question – how to bring the sacred into daily life? The pilgrimage is simple, physical, and direct. But now with the virus we cannot physically connect to the monasteries. Lum por Sumedho’s teachings often deal with this. Kitchen workers at Abhayagiri feel disconnected from the dharma. When things are going well we have a sense of the sacredness, the flowing dharma. But when things are unpleasant or ordinary, we somehow think it’s not dharma. Even the ordinary and banal is dharma. Doing the laundry. Doing the dishes. Looking after our lives and relationships. We make it sacred by putting our hearts into it.

1:06:00 Akaliko, timeless – We don’t need to be in nature or a beautiful setting to connect to the sacred. The dharma is always there.

1:08:00 Gratitude

1:09:00 Question – are there things we should NOT see through to the end?

Check your intention. What is the motivation behind the activity? Is it wholesome or not? If not, the end will be suffering. There’s a danger in seemingly wholesome activities that are tainted by worldly motivations. If mixed into the wholesome intention is some aspect that is not.

1:14:00 Setting intentions is important.

Tainting by taking the low road. Vengeance. If we can see this, we can change to the high road. Take the power to change one’s own actions.

1:16:00 Radical benefit of the doubt – it’s a good policy.Don’t assume motivations and call people out. Ask about a person’s intentions if necessary.  Keep the mind open. Develop empathy. A practice of kindness.

1:18:00 Metta bhavana – right motivation. Intentions of letting go, of kindness, of compassion. Anything with these motivations tends towards wholesomeness.

1:19:00 wrap up