Monday, 2 November 2009

The Greatest Gift

National Order Weekend November 2009

“This Dhamma that I have attained is deep, hard to see, hard to realize, peaceful, refined, beyond the scope of conjecture, subtle, to-be-experienced by the wise. But this generation delights in attachment, is excited by attachment, enjoys attachment. For a generation delighting in attachment, excited by attachment, enjoying attachment, conditionality & dependent co-arising are hard to see. This state, too, is hard to see: the resolution of all fabrications, the relinquishment of all acquisitions, the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Nibbana. If I were to teach the Dhamma, others would not understand me, and that would be tiresome for me, troublesome for me.'
"Just then these verses, unspoken in the past, unheard before, occurred to me:
'Enough now with teaching what only with difficulty I reached. This Dhamma is not easily realized by those overcome with aversion & passion. What is abstruse, subtle, deep, hard to see, going against the flow — those delighting in passion, cloaked in the mass of darkness, won't see.'
"As I reflected thus, my mind inclined to inaction rather than to teaching the Dhamma.” MN 26, p.260.

We are all familiar with the story of how the newly enlightened Buddha was disinclined to teach the Dharma, because others would be unlikely to understand and because it would be vexatious to him, wearying and troublesome as it says here. In this, many of us can probably empathise with him. Fortunately for us he did communicate his experience, and here we are over 2500 years later still benefiting from and engaging with that communication -- which tells us something about the significance of the experience he had for humanity and something about the significance of communication itself. When we communicate universal ideas, we are entering a conversation that carries on over centuries and millennia. The Buddha communicated his insights, others have responded by practising as he recommended and by further elucidating his message. This practice and elucidation then becomes another expression, another communication of the Buddha's message, which others then respond to, and so on down the centuries, across cultures and nationalities and via many languages. The conversation initiated by the Buddha continues. We have joined in that conversation by responding to Bhante Sangharakshita's elucidation and so the wheel of the dharma continues to roll on.

The Buddha encouraged his followers to spread the dharma from the beginning. He urged his first 61 disciples to " go now and wander for the welfare and happiness of many, out of compassion for the world, for the benefit, welfare and happiness of gods and men. Teach the dharma, that is good in the beginning, good in the middle and good in the end, with the meaning and the letter." Nanamoli, Life of the Buddha, p.52.

Those disciples did as they were asked and the Sangha grew rapidly. There are some verses in the Samyutta Nikaya which are a conversation between the Buddha and Mara, some seven years after the Enlightenment in which Mara tries to discourage the Buddha from teaching. He says "if you have truly found a path that leads in safety to the deathless, depart. But go by it alone, what need to let another know?" And the Buddha responds. "People who seek to cross beyond asked me where death cannot prevail: thus asked, I tell the end of all, where is no substance for rebirth". Nanamoli, p.61.

In the Majjhima Nikaya, Sutta 49, there is another conversation between the Buddha and Mara. Mara is trying to convince him that if he teaches the Dharma he will suffer an inferior rebirth. Mara follows up his argument by saying "So, bhikkhu, I tell you this: be sure good sir to abide inactive, devoted to a pleasant abiding here and now , this is better left undeclared, and so, good sir, inform no one else".

I suppose there are many ways to interpret a conversation between the Buddha and Mara -- especially after the Enlightenment. But one way of seeing it is that there are always opposing forces to the dharma. Whether these manifest in the external world or within our own minds, they are powerful forces, which are constantly encouraging us to think of our own comfort and to avoid what may be inconvenient, to look after number one, in short to be self-centred.

Bhante says in Wisdom Beyond Words. "Every advertisement that you see is in effect an advertisement against Buddhism, because it promotes greed, hatred,or delusion or all three", and it's not just advertisements. There are lots of things which are easy, stimulating, interesting and which keep us distracted from the dharma; watching TV or BBC iplayer, surfing the Internet, playing computer games, facebook, twitter, e-mail, iPod and much more. Mara doesn't have to try very hard to persuade us to give a lot of time to personal pursuits and even to see our Dharma practice as another personal pursuit among many. But the Buddha is quite explicit about what we need to do -- "go now and wander for the welfare and happiness of many, out of compassion for the world, for the benefit, welfare and happiness of gods and men. Teach the dharma, that is good in the beginning, good in the middle and good in the end, with the meaning and the letter."

Later in the Mahayana sutras, you get what seems at first a strange and annoying refrain -- any son or daughter of good family who takes just one verse or four lines of this sutra and bears it in mind, recites and studies it and illuminates it in detail for others -- will beget incalculable, immeasurable merit. You find this refrain in the Diamond Sutra and something similar in the Sutra of Golden Light. And sometimes you feel like saying "all right, but where is the sutra.". It's as if the compiler of the sutra is so concerned that you take it up and teach it that he forgets to tell you what the message of the sutra is. But of course, the importance of sharing the dharma is precisely the message. The Diamond Sutra, is for instance, a perfection of wisdom text and pretty abstruse and paradoxical, but you get this refrain about illuminating it in detail for others about eight times, I think. And of course the message is that there is no Perfection of Wisdom without compassion -- Sunyata is nothing unless it is compassion. And compassion is not just about responding to people who are suffering in some obvious way like physical or emotional distress. Compassion is primarily a response to spiritual ignorance, it is pointing out the path for those who want a path, it is the finger pointing at the moon of the Dharma As Bhante puts it in his commentary on the Diamond Sutra, " any amount of giving of material things in the ordinary worldly sense, however appropriate, necessary, and beneficial it may be on its own level, or however meritorious in a traditional Buddhist sense, is completely incomparable with even the smallest amount of giving of the Dharma, and especially with the gift of the perfection of wisdom. The Buddha is the effectively saying that if you go and give just one talk on the Dharma to an audience of people who have never heard the dharma before, disclosing to them perspectives which have never been disclosed to them before, the amount of merit, you thereby generate is far greater than if you had spent, say, 10,000 lifetimes as a social worker in 10,000 different worlds. It is almost impossible to overestimate just how meritorious, teaching the dharma is." (Wisdom Beyond Words, p.115.)

In the Vimalakirti Nirdesa there is a passage about how Bodhisattva's harm themselves which re-inforces this message about sharing the Dharma with others -

"Maitreya, there are two reasons the beginner bodhisattvas hurt themselves and do not concentrate on the profound Dharma. What are they? Hearing this profound teaching never before heard, they are terrified and doubtful, do not rejoice, and reject it, thinking, 'Whence comes this teaching never before heard?' They then behold other noble sons accepting, becoming vessels for, and teaching this profound teaching, and they do not attend upon them, do not befriend them, do not respect them, and do not honor them, and eventually they go so far as to criticize them. These are the two reasons the beginner bodhisattvas hurt themselves and do not penetrate the profound Dharma."

So this about not being receptive to the dharma and being disrespectful and dismissive of those who are committed and practising.

"There are two reasons the bodhisattvas who do aspire to the profound Dharma hurt themselves and do not attain the tolerance of the ultimate birthlessness of things. What are these two? These bodhisattvas despise and reproach the beginner bodhisattvas, who have not been practicing for a long time, and they do not initiate them or instruct them in the profound teaching. Having no great respect for this profound teaching, they are not careful about its rules. They help living beings by means of material gifts and do not help them by means of the gift of the Dharma. Such, Maitreya, are the two reasons the bodhisattvas who aspire to the profound Dharma hurt themselves and will not quickly attain the tolerance of the ultimate birthlessness of all things." Page 101, Thurman.

"They help living beings by means of material gifts and do not help them by means of the gift of the Dharma." This brings us back to the earlier tradition of the Pali Canon.

In the Itivutakka the Buddha says "there are two kinds of gifts: the gift of material things and the gift of Dhamma: the greater of these is the gift of the Dhamma." (Nanamoli, p. 200.) In recent years, I've noticed that Bhante has reiterated again and again the importance of spreading the dharma. He has mentioned it in question and answer sessions many times, and in his recent message to the order he says, quite emphatically that if an order member is not actively working to spread the dharma, then they are not going for refuge as effectively as they might be. Indeed, the archetype of the order is the 1000 armed Avalokitesvara, which implies that every order member is engaged in the bodhisattva activity of dispelling ignorance with the light of the dharma.

The Buddha of the Pali Canon says teach the dharma, share the Dharma , spread the dharma. The Mahayana sutras say share the Dharma, spread the Dharma, teach the Dharma and Bhante repeats over and over spread the Dharma, share the Dharma, teach the Dharma. So what is this Dharma that we should spread and share and given that we are not all spiritual geniuses or gifted communicators, how can we teach the Dharma?

From one perspective the Dharma is the Truth, it is Reality, the way things are. The Dharma is also the teachings and practices which lead to the Truth. In other words the Dharma is the Path, the spiritual path. It is difficult if not impossible to give the Dharma as Truth. First of all you have to realise the truth for yourself, embody it and then there is really no question of giving anything – everything you say and do is a sharing of the Dharma. For most of us, however, giving the Dharma is a matter of telling others about the teachings of the Buddha and helping others to do the practices outlined by the Buddha. Even that is not easy. The teachings and practices have been added to and filtered through two and a half thousand years of history, diverse cultures and many great teachers and masters. So we are faced with a huge and complex myriad of teachings and practices, some of which contradict each other and some of which don’t seem to bear any relationship to the Buddha’s original thoughts in so far as we know them from the early scriptures of the Pali canon. What are we to do? How are we to make sense of it all – Theravada, zen, tantra. Hua yen, yogachara, tien tai, shingon, madhyamika, the forty meditations, the pantheon of tantric deities, koans, mantras, prayer wheels, the alms round, and so on. We need a teacher. Each tradition has it’s own teachers, elders, gurus, and masters who elucidate a path and a set of coherent views for their followers and disciples. In our own tradition, our teacher is Urgyen Sangharakshita. He has elucidated a coherent path and view, which manifests in all sorts of ways. He did this by taking aspects of the dharma and drawing out their significance by giving talks – often a series of talks on one topic, such as eight talks on the Bodhisattva Ideal and eight talks on the Tantra or five talks on Zen and so on – about 200 talks in total. He also took various texts- either scriptures or commentaries and elucidated their deeper meaning in seminars which were recorded, transcribed and often published in edited form. In this way we have been given a clear set of teachings and a clear path – we have been guided through the jungle of complex teachings and practices and given what we need in order to progress towards realisation of the Truth.

The key view or teaching at the heart of all this is Pratitya Samutpada – conditioned co-production and the central practice is Going for Refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Both of these can be unfolded to reveal more and more depth and profundity and both overlap and interconnect.

Pratitya Samutpada is the seemingly simple concept that everything arises is dependence upon conditions. Or to put it another way nothing has an essential nature that is apart from conditions. Further to this – not only does everything arise in dependence on conditions, but all of those conditions are similarly interfused, interconnected and inter-penetrating. Everything arises in dependence upon a multiplicity of conditions all of which are inter-related. This is an idea that we can grasp intellectually, but we need to go further than that. This idea is a symbol of a deeper reality that has to be realised on the deepest possible level. When any individual realises this Truth in all it’s depth and significance it has the effect of total transformation. Nothing is as it was before. What we think of as ‘me’ or ‘I’ can no longer be related to in the same way and what we think of as ‘other’, as ‘him’ or ‘her’ or ‘them’ can no longer be related to in the same way either. Conditioned co-production is not just an idea, it is not an attempt to give a scientific description of our world, it is , rather, a profound spiritual Truth that has to be intuited, imagined, embodied, felt , has to become the way we experience everything, everywhere, all the time.

Going for Refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha is the practice we commit ourselves to in order to bring about this realisation. Going for Refuge implies a commitment to having the Three Jewels at the heart of our life. The more intensely and wholeheartedly we Go for Refuge to the Buddha, dharma and Sangha the more sure we are to realise the Truth of Pratitya Samutpada. We go for refuge to the Buddha by taking him as our Ideal. We see the Buddha as the embodiment of the highest possible spiritual ideals. We aim our lives at emulating him and becoming Buddha’s ourselves. We aim at Awakening to ‘knowledge and vision of things as they really are’ as the Pali canon puts it. We go for refuge to the Dharma by putting into practice the ethical guidelines and the meditation practices we have been taught and by reflecting often and long and deeply on the concepts of the Dharma and on our own experience in the light of our understanding of the Dharma. We go for refuge to the sangha by venerating and revering our teachers and all those who have realised the Truth and by giving full rein to our heartfelt gratitude for all that we have received from the Buddha and the generations who have kept the light of the dharma shining down the centuries and into our present time and our individual lives.

These two teachings, Conditioned Co-production, sometimes called Dependent Arising ( in Sanskrit – Pratitya Samutpada) and Going for Refuge, are at the heart of Sangharakshita’s elucidation of the Dharma. This is what he sees as the unifying principle and practice of Buddhism and all other teachings serve and relate to these. Everything else is an unfolding of the view of conditioned co-production and an intensifying of the centrality of Going for refuge to the Buddha Dharma and Sangha.

So this is the Dharma that we want to practice and to share.

But why should we share the Dharma? If people want the Dharma can’t they find it for them selves just like we did? I hope it’s obvious that this is spurious reasoning. We share the Dharma because it is in the nature of the Dharma to be shared. Or to put it simply – the practise of the Dharma means sharing the Dharma. There is no such thing as a self-centred practice of the Dharma. To the extent that it is self-centred it is not the dharma. We didn’t just find the Dharma for ourselves – others, many others, went to the trouble of making it available to us in many different forms, in different places and so on. They did that because that is what it means to be a Buddhist. Of course not all of us can teach the Dharma – as in giving talks or leading study or retreats. But we can help in many, many ways to make the Dharma widely available. I’ll come back to that later.

If we have some idea of what the Dharma is, if we have responded with faith and enthusiasm to the ideas and practices and if we have the guidance of a teacher we trust, then we are indeed very fortunate. And if we have all that we probably also have a desire to see others benefit from the Dharma too – we quite naturally want to share our good fortune.

So the questions that arise are- who should we share the Dharma with, when should we share the Dharma, where should we share the Dharma and all importantly how should we share the Dharma.

When I first became a Buddhist I was extremely enthusiastic about the Dharma and I couldn’t help talking about it all the time and recommending it to my friends. I was a Buddhist bore and I actually alienated people by an insensitive over-enthusiasm. I think the best policy really is to only share the Dharma with those who really want it. In the Tiratana Vandana the Dharma is said to be of the nature of an invitation. So the people to share the Dharma with are those who accept the invitation. There is no question of trying to convert or persuade people that they should be Buddhists or that they should meditate. Freedom is of the essence in Buddhism and only those who feel free not to be Buddhists can really be Buddhists. Only those who feel free not to be part of a Sangha can really be part of a Sangha. So when we talk about sharing the Dharma or giving the Dharma, what we mean is making it available for whoever may be interested.

There is really no limit to when and where to share the Dharma. However, there are some parts of the world where you would not be allowed to openly teach meditation or Buddhism, without risking very severe punishment. The best time to share the Dharma is when we are inspired and energised by the practices – ethics, meditation, reflection, puja, retreat and sangha. And of course the best place is where there is receptivity and interest.

The question of how to share the Dharma is an interesting one. We talk about Dharma teachers and about teaching the Dharma – but in a way, we can only teach about the Dharma. Sharing the Dharma is not really a matter of talking about the Dharma, that may be a part of it, but essentially it is a matter of practising the Dharma as fully as we can and embodying it’s principles to at least some degree. Unless we practice and what we say comes from a lived Dharma, it will only be empty words, at best the foamy bubbles on the surface of the river of the Dharma. In the Dhammapada the Buddha says “First establish yourself in what is suitable, then advise others”.(Verse 158).

So the first thing to say about how to share the Dharma is that it is not just about teaching or giving talks or leading study groups or leading retreats. Any practising Buddhist is a living , walking, talking Dharma teaching. Your mindfulness, your kindness, your ability to listen and empathise, your friendliness, your honesty and openness, your generosity, your energy, your co-operativeness are all qualities and behaviours that communicate very strongly the spirit of the Dharma. Often when people go on retreat for the first time or come to a Buddhist centre for the first time they will report that what struck them most was the way the retreat team related to each other or the attentive way someone listened to them or just the atmosphere of friendliness. These things often have a greater impact than what is said. So anyone can communicate the Dharma in this way – by putting it into practise wholeheartedly.

However we do also need those who can explain and elucidate texts and commentaries. We need those who can give talks and lead study – although, it is still necessary that the basic foundation of wholehearted practise is there too. There needs to be a degree of congruency between what we say and how we behave and our mental states.

I think Bhante Sangharakshita is a very good example of how to share the Dharma. He has been practising intensively for nearly seventy years. As a young man he studied and meditated constantly and as young monk he practised mindfulness all the time – adopting the traditional practise of looking at the ground ahead of him whenever he had to go out, as a way of avoiding distraction. On the basis of his insight into the Diamond sutra and his assiduous practice, he was able to communicate from a great depth of understanding and elucidate even very difficult texts out of his experience. He gave lots of talks, wrote articles and books and published magazines and he created sangha. He even did a stint lecturing at Yale University. In 1970 I think. He has been interviewed and filmed and now he uses the internet. He has made connections between the Dharma and western culture and philosophy and he has of course led retreats and study seminars. He has in short used all available means to communicate his understanding and experience of the Dharma.

It is possible for us to engage with all of these ways of making the dharma available – we may not be ready or able to communicate the Dharma directly to others, but we can support those who do and we can intensify our own practise of ethics, meditation and reflection so that our life is an example and a communication in itself.

It cannot be emphasised too much that the primary way to communicate and share the Dharma is by practising, by Going for refuge to the three jewels. Going for Refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha is dependant on conditions – this is the truth of Pratitya Samutpada in the area of spiritual life. A major part of Going for refuge is creating the conditions that enable us to GFR effectively and of course engaging with and making use of the conditions that are available to us. Often people feel they are not making much progress on the spiritual path, and often if they look honestly at their lives they will see that the reason is that they have put themselves in conditions that make progress difficult or put themselves outside conditions that are helpful. For most of us most of the time the primary condition we need to have in our lives in order to make spiritual progress is other people who are also enthusiastically treading the Path. Without the presence of others and communication around the pleasures and pitfalls on the path – we are at a great disadvantage. Perhaps even more basic than open, honest and friendly communication is psychological health and integration. If we have unresolved psychological issues they will often obstruct our ability to be effectively engaged with the sangha and cause us to blame and complain and feel hurt and offended to such a degree that we become isolated and alienated and what seemed to be a solution to our problems becomes an even bigger problem. So, I believe it is essential that those who need to should see psychological work as part of the necessary conditions for going for refuge effectively. If we expect too much from others we will be sorely disappointed and we could tragically send ourselves on a downward spiral into illness and loneliness.

So we can communicate something of the value of the Dharma by making efforts to sort out any psychological difficulties we have that cause us to experience irrational fear of others or put us in conflict with them, and we can also communicate the value and spirit of the Dharma by setting up and engaging with the best possible conditions for practise – which may not be in accordance with our mundane preferences. Just by the way, I would say one condition that is absolutely essential if any progress is to be made is going on retreat. I am not at all sure it is possible to effectively go for refuge without the benefit of retreats which take us away from our usual routine for a time. To put it a bit more strongly- I am not sure you can really be a serious Buddhist unless you go on retreat – at least for a couple of weeks a year. This is my personal view based on experience and observation.

If we are working on our psychological issues and doing our best to involve ourselves in good conditions for practise, then we will be communicating the Dharma to some extent.

We cannot all give talks but we can listen and try to be receptive, we can tell others about any especially inspiring talk and we can read transcripts if there are any or we can even make transcripts if we feel so moved. A Dharma talk is not an entertainment – it is an attempt to communicate something of value – different speakers have different abilities, but as listeners we need to try to hear the message and not be overly concerned with the speakers nervousness or habits of speech or whatever. Every Dharma talk probably has something to teach us if we only listen.

I say we can’t all give talks – but is that right. If we can talk then we can give a Dharma talk or at least talk about the Dharma as we understand and practice it. When I first got involved I was very shy and didn’t like to speak in groups, even the mitra study group and when I was given the letter in Guhyaloka in 1988 saying that I was going to be ordained my immediate response was that I couldn’t possibly become an Order Member because I couldn’t lead study or give talks, which was what I considered central to the life of an OM. I did take on leading study fairly soon after ordination but I didn’t begin giving Dharma talks until six years after ordination, when I became chairman at the LBC. I still found it difficult to be in front of an audience but by dint of practice that has ceased to be a problem. However, whenever I am asked to give a talk or lead a retreat or lead anything my immediate instinctive response is to recoil – an aspect of me just does not want to lead or be the focus of other peoples attention – but that can be overcome and I do manage to overcome it most times. I am saying all this, for the benefit of anyone who thinks that for some reason they cannot give Dharma talks or lead study - you may be right but maybe you can do a lot more than you think.

Bhante says something which I find encouraging in this regard. In Wisdom Beyond Words he says, “ The verbal formulation of the Enlightened point of view can actually create an impression on the hearer that is more profound than the impression it makes on the person speaking. Even in the context of a poor lecture the teaching can mean more to the listener than it does to the speaker. In other words, a teacher can allow for some kind of inherent power, not just in the Dharma, but in the Dharma as formulated”.. P. 216.

Or to put it another way you may be able to communicate the Dharma even if you don’t really know what you are talking about !!!!!!

Similarly with Dharma classes or study groups – perhaps we can’t all be leaders or facilitators, but we can be supportive of those who do take on that task. We can give practical support- make the tea, arrange the cushions or whatever is needed. We can give our friendliness and extend hospitality and a welcome to whoever turns up. These things are not insignificant, indeed as I said earlier they often make a deeper impression on people than what is said in the course of the study or class. So your friendliness and ability to listen could be communicating much more than the leader of the class does, because it is very human to respond strongly to friendliness and attention and sincerity.

When I lead study, what I find most supportive is the engagement of those in the group. There are some people who seem to feel that thinking for themselves means being in opposition to almost everything they hear. But the first thing required for genuine engagement is understanding. You must understand what is being said first. It is then very necessary to get a sense of how we feel about it and what we think about it – two different things and whether we can see any relevance to our life and to spiritual practice. Here is a quote from Sangharakshita, which gives us some tips about how to reflect on Dharma texts “ many years ago, I constantly asked myself: ‘ how does this teaching relate to one’s actual spiritual experience, spiritual life, spiritual development? Why did the Buddha say this? Why was the Buddha concerned with this? Where does it connect up with the spiritual life?’ “

This kind of reflection and enquiry is part of the practise of wisdom. If we can reflect on the Dharma and on our own experience in this way, we will become teachers of the Dharma by example and by reason of a new depth of understanding.

Many of us will have made our first contact with the Dharma through books, and this is still a major way of communicating and making the Dharma available . We can’t all write books perhaps. Although it is sometimes said that there is at least one book in everybody. If we can’t write books, we can buy them and in that way support the authors and the small publishers. We can read books and tell others about them, thus giving more support to the author. And of course we can learn from books, be inspired by books and books can change our lives. So even if we don’t write a book we can try to be aware of what it means for someone to write a book and give them a s much support as possible if we feel that what they have to say is important or is a good communication of the Dharma.

Today we live in an increasingly multi-media world and therefore the Dharma can be and needs to be communicated using video and internet. There are two FWBO charities, Clear Vision and FWBO Dharmachakra, which do this very well,as well as Suryaprabha’s Lights in the Sky, but unfortunately all struggle to survive because of lack of financial support. Clear Vision, makes excellent videos. In particular they communicate Buddhism to teachers and classes in schools throughout the UK and even further afield. They also video all of Bhante’s talks for posterity and they keep an archive of film and photos. All of this is a lot of work and their small charity finds it very hard to make ends meet. So if you want to help to communicate the Dharma via film then think about helping Clear Vision. And of course Lights in the Sky.

The internet is an amazing resource with it’s almost world wide reach and it’s web-like networking ability. Free Buddhist Audio is a website which makes available to anyone with access to the internet all of Sangharakshita’s talks in audio format and seminars in transcript. It also makes available talks by other Order Members and has a community section which links to Buddhist centres around the world. There is a section for Mitra Study and many more features. It is an outstanding achievement and an invaluable resource. It is especially precious to those who do not live near other Buddhists or a Buddhist centre. Via Free Buddhist Audio they can access teachings on every aspect of the Dharma and get a sense of connection with other like-minded people. Before Free Buddhist Audio there were cd’s or tapes and these were not cheap for many people. Free Buddhist Audio is as it says – free. It is not paid for by advertising, it is not sponsored by any corporation – it relies on donations. Unfortunately only about 4% of people who use it actually make a donation, as yet. Thousands of people all over the world use Free Buddhist Audio every month. A huge number in the US for instance but also people from every other continent. It is a fantastic resource and ongoing project and needs the support of all of us.

The Buddha lived in a less complex world than we do. It was also a world in which the geographical scope of any communication was very limited, when compared to the possibilities of today. So in order to spread his message he had to exhort his followers to " go now and wander for the welfare and happiness of many, out of compassion for the world, for the benefit, welfare and happiness of gods and men. Teach the dharma, that is good in the beginning, good in the middle and good in the end, with the meaning and the letter."

That was the best way to reach the largest number and variety of people. Bhante is still encouraging us to go now and wander for the welfare and happiness of many, out of compassion for the world, for the benefit, welfare and happiness of gods and men. In his recent message, he said, “I wish more Order Members would go and pioneer. Why should dozens of Order Members cluster around a single urban centre when they could be spreading the Dharma somewhere else?”

Bhante expresses it as a wish because he obviously doesn't feel he can just tell us to “ go now and wander for the welfare and happiness of many, out of compassion for the world, for the benefit, welfare and happiness of gods and men.” as the Buddha could do with his disciples. But perhaps we should take it as something stronger than a wish. The voice of Mara is loud and clamorous, insidious, and ever present, saying "be sure good sir to abide inactive, devoted to a pleasant abiding here and now, this is better left undeclared, and so, good sir, inform no one else".

So, we have Bhante’s wish and the Buddha’s exhortation against Mara's seductive plea. Let's not remain inactive. If we cannot “go now and wander for the welfare and happiness of many, out of compassion for the world,” then let's do what we can do to share and spread the Dharma. If we can give talks and lead retreats and study let's do that. If we can support those who work to spread the Dharma, by listening to them, by working for them, by giving them money, let's do that. If we can support activities and institutions to spread the Dharma through books, videos and the Internet by giving them money or other help, let's do that.

Above all, let’s spread the Dharma by going for refuge more effectively and by paying close attention to setting up, establishing and maintaining the conditions that are most helpful to effective going for refuge both for ourselves and others. As the Buddha said, “there are two kinds of gift: the gift of material things and the gift of the Dhamma, the greatest of these is the gift of the Dharma”. It is the greatest gift.