Monday, January 27, 2014

Reflections of a Forest Nun

Ayya Anandabodhi

Photo: Bellah via Compfight cc

In Western culture we are conditioned from an early age to think of ourselves as a separate, individual person, unique and different from the rest. There is of course some truth in this, but along with our uniqueness and individuality comes our total interconnectedness with all beings and everything on this planet. It’s a big leap.

Each time we take a breath, we are sharing that breath with every other life form that breathes! While we are breathing in oxygen and breathing out carbon dioxide during the day, trees and other plants are breathing in carbon dioxide and breathing out oxygen. It’s a beautiful symbiosis, but as long as we take ourselves to be the only ones who are truly relevant, we disrupt that balance. Having cut down so many trees on this beautiful planet for short-term gain, we find ourselves not only losing the majesty and diversity a forest can provide, but we are finding ourselves in doubt as to whether there will be any air left to breathe.
Some indigenous cultures, instead of speaking about themselves as separate individuals, refer to being part of a “stream.” That stream flows to them from their parents, caregivers, teachers, grandparents, and back through ever-distant ancestors. (If we go back far enough, we are all related.) That same stream flows on through their children, grandchildren, and through all those they influence in their lives. Challenges also run through that stream, along with the shared strength to meet those challenges. In this indigenous way of thinking, what we might call “personal success” is understood as belonging to everybody. It is a very different mindset from the model of the “striving individual.”

Photo: romsrini via Compfight cc
Then there are the influences present in this moment. The food you have eaten that has come from the earth, the sun, the wind and the rain, from the hard work of farmers and farmworkers, packers and haulers—that food is now becoming part of you . . . for a while. The water you consumed (in whatever form) that has been circulating around this planet Earth as ocean, cloud, rain and river is now, for this moment, part of you. The people around you who are influenced by your moods and intentions, your speech and action—are they really separate from you?

We are totally interconnected. When we really bring presence to this truth, where is the room for conglomeration of self? We can only keep that going through telling and retelling the stories of who and how we are, of what we have done well and what we have done wrong, and who we are going to be in the future. But right now, there is only this and our ability to be with this.

As nuns we have a daily reflection: “Our very life is sustained through the gifts of others . . .” This is pointing to our life as alms mendicants, where we are totally dependent on the generosity of others for our daily support. I would like to suggest that every living being on this planet is also sustained through the gifts of others. Whether you are a high earner or struggling to get by, you are continuously giving to others and receiving—consciously or unconsciously. Becoming aware of this opens up a choice: to give what will benefit others and ourselves, or to give what won’t benefit.

The Buddha encouraged his son Rahula to reflect on each mental, verbal, and physical action— to reflect on whether the action would lead to his own harm, to the harm of others, or to the harm of both and if it would, to not do it; then to reflect on whether his thought, speech, or action would lead to his own welfare, to the welfare of others, or to the welfare of both and if it would, to go ahead and do it. It’s a simple formula if we can remember to apply it in the moment. We may not be able to practice to the same degree as Rahula—he was already fully enlightened!—but we can remember that we are continually influencing and being influenced by who and what we come into contact with in any moment. How we meet our experience and respond, rather than react, is our offering to the world. We don’t have to keep following our old habits of mind, repeatedly creating the same scenarios. With a bit of extra focus, we can meet this moment with a sense of interest, generosity, and love.

Ayya Anandabodhi: Bhikkhuni

Ayya Anandabodhi first encountered the Buddha’s teaching in her early teens, which ignited a deep interest in the Buddha’s Path of Awakening. She has practiced meditation since 1989, and lived at Amaravati and Chithurst monasteries in the UK from 1992 until 2009, when she moved to the US on invitation of the Saranaloka Foundation to help establish a training monastery for women. She took bhikkhuni ordination in 2011 and joined the growing number of women in the Theravada tradition who are reclaiming the Bhikkhuni Order, originally conferred by the Buddha. The teachings and example of Ajahn Chah have been a steady guidance and inspiration for Ayya Anandabodhi throughout her monastic life.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, dear Ayya Anandabodhi, for your generosity, sharing and celebrating interconnectedness! Adeline