On the Uposatha, Tahn Pamutto discusses attachment to views, what that looks like and how we might try to chart a course through the world without relying on them. While Taṇha or Craving gets a lot of press in the Buddha’s teachings, it’s actually the outflow of Views, or Diṭṭhāsava, that was the major stumbling block in the lives of early Buddhists. Seeing our viewpoints and expectations as impermanent is the gateway that everyone must pass through to chart a course for true freedom.
How? First it’s important to recognize what suffering views are!
“Oh, the one who first taught you
the Buddha’s dhamma and his ways –
like brahmins keep a sacred fire lit
Ever give them thanks and praise!”
Winter is both here and not quite here yet. Evening temperatures dip below freezing and the first snow of the season threatens with every storm, but as yet the days are still warm. Managing heat inside the small space of the mobile temple during these shifts has become something of an art form. As anyone who has used a wood stove in such a space knows, getting the right heat is a constant balancing act: too much wood and the fire makes it a sauna; too little wood and the fire dies out.
Mastering constant heat is about coming to an understanding … it’s not about the fire. It’s about the embers, the glowing coals after a burn that keep the stove warm and ready. If the embers go out the stove has to be lit again from scratch, but if they are properly tended and nursed along restarting the fire is as easy as tossing on more fuel.
This is very much like our dhamma practice. There are times when we are on fire. We sit, we study, we go on retreats and burn with enthusiasm. But at other times, and sometimes as a consequence of overheating through our fervor, the fire goes out and we enter a period of drifting. We will struggle to sit and despite our best intentions we’ll neglect our practice. Days, weeks, months go by. When we finally do get back on track is almost like starting things from scratch.
As we go along, a wisdom arises: it’s not so much about the periods of intensity or periods of drifting as it is about nurturing the glowing coals of Faith and Wisdom through our day to day life. If we keep in contact with these – our reasons for practice, with the teaching, and with a community of dhamma friends – then whenever there is time and fuel our practice will light up again.
This is even more the case here in America, with many people practicing dhamma but living very separate and individual lives. The country is not one but a multitude of frontiers, with many practitioners dozens or even hundreds of miles from a temple or retreat center of their lineage. There might be a sitting or study group nearby, but these often meet too infrequently to keep us active by themselves.
We find here that we have to be diligent to stay the path. Continuity of practice is often more the case of nurturing daily expression – maintaining an altar, supporting a dhamma community, sitting, reading, chanting. Some little daily effort or reminder to keep the embers alive goes further than a few big exertions.
One of the best ways to stay the course, and know what we need to nurture, is to keep in touch with what inspired us to begin spiritual practice in the first place. Chances are we didn’t find that inspiration from reading a paperback or hearing about a temple somewhere or meeting someone who goes on meditation retreat every now and then. Even if that has become the content of our spiritual lives, it’s not where we started. If we look back to where we first developed our faith we will probably see a moment of intense personal growth, or a mind-altering teaching, or a meeting with a deeply devoted and inspiring practitioner.
We don’t keep the embers of Faith and Wisdom glowing through being content and coasting along. We have to look back to what originally lit a fire in our hearts and got us believing we could change for the better. This will be different from person to person, but what will be the same is that whenever a person keeps in touch with the things that inspired them, they will not lose their way. There will still be ups and downs, but the fire will no longer go out. Exertion won’t be a merciless sweat and tending to life’s other chores won’t leave one feeling cold.
So if you find yourself drifting, take a moment and ask yourself. Where did you start? What keeps you warm? When you figure it out, then keep it going in your life. Let it be its own art form.
The website and online front of Upavana have been pretty quiet and dusty the last two weeks. As when this has happened in the past, it’s usually a pretty safe bet it’s because Tahn Pamutto has been spending his time in the rustic mobile temple where local community is strong and loving, but cell and wifi signals are the not. This represents an important part of monastic life and the quietude most supportive for contemplation. The two Saturday ‘Days of Mindfulness’ have been incredibly quiet and productive! The small town of Wendell is also a great place to practice compassion and give and receive teachings on life.
The rest of the month though will be a period of dividing time, also spending time in Shelburne, MA, where most of the retreats and online teachings have taken place. Here the sangha can be accessible and have easy access to resources and communication, which increases reach.
The fact that practice and access is so different in these two locations, and that both are equally valid modes of building community, is precisely why Upavana exists as a non-profit rather than a single forest temple. What we learn from practicing Buddhism on the many frontiers of America is that the needs of each community, and sometimes each town, can be very different. People practice the dhamma everywhere, and everywhere Sangha is a support.
In the future there will be people and interest enough to manage both modes of practice and being simultaneously. Until then, learning how to properly manage time is the practice. Meditation teaches us the pain of multi-tasking we are sometimes eager to overlook – it’s never pleasant to do many things at once and the divided mind is far less effective. This doesn’t mean we can’t accomplish many things simultaneously. It just involves training ourselves to do one thing at a time with our complete attention, as in meditation, but be able to change what that thing is without sticking or getting distracted along the way.
The coming two weeks will see a renewed effort to build the online community. We’ll have our Tea Time Chat on Wednesday, and the online Uposatha Friday. Next week from Monday to Friday we’ll do our first ‘Working Retreat’, a chance to develop Mettā with meditation, chanting, and reflections at the beginning of the day before we head to work and the end to help us wind down and learn.
Following this period the mobile temple will go quiet. Deer Season begins December 1st– a great time for forest monks in fawn-colored robes to depart for the city. Tahn Pamutto will be joining friends in NYC and will be active there until Christmas.
In this Uposatha evening reflection, Tahn Pamutto draws from a Dhammapada reference to the path of practice as a ‘Path of Peace’. Though we begin by charting a course to particular goals and discriminating between different philosophies and types of practice, it is ultimately less about our destination than about the path we take to get there. Tahn Pamutto goes on to speak about the Five Faculties: five character traits the spiritual practitioner builds and employs which are the deciding factor in whether we make quick progress or slow. These faculties are not just the tools of the journey but are also a way of describing what we become through our efforts.
The vassa is now fully over, and monastics are back to traveling freely and seeking the most suitable places to practice. Bhante Sumano and Tahn Tānakāro, who have been in Western Mass since July, have departed to spend time in NYC, visit other monasteries and traditions, and plan to connect with fellow monastics on the west coast.
Their growth and ordination answers a question few would have thought to ask – is it possible to equip and train monastics without the security net of an established temple or organization? Time and again, sincere practitioners remind us that there’s no need to wonder ‘What do we need to practice?”. Buddhist practice requires very little beyond the food and support provided by community and friends, and the true situation is the other way around: practice is the very thing needed for other things, like temples and organizations and sitting groups, to flourish.
Last Sunday was their final day, with the three monastics parting ways while attending the Kathina festival at Wat Pa Thai Thavorn in Albany. It was quite the gathering of monastics and lay people from both NYC and the greater Albany area, but predictably it was hampered and cut short by cold, rainy late-autumn weather.
Tahn Pamutto has returned to Wendell, where the renewed flexibility of being on his own will allow him to coordinate a variety of new events to keep Upavana developing. Saturdays will be devoted to In-Person mindfulness, meditation, and sutta study, while Sundays will be spent with the local community attending a well-established Buddhist meditation group.
A quick review of the last year shows how many different locations have been host to Upavana events! The time is drawing near for a solid home base with the amenities for both In-Person and Online gatherings. Anyone with ideas is encouraged to contact firstname.lastname@example.org
We have just finished our daylong retreat, “Recollection of Death”. The recordings are available on the ‘Innovative Dhamma’ YouTube channel. We appreciate the great turnout and participation both online and in-person!
Today Pamutto Bhikkhu, Bhante Sumano, and Tahn Tānakāro were at Barre Center for Buddhist Studies. Their friend and neighbor Christopher Queen, a former director of the center, helped with transport.
A highlight of the visit was a chance to go for a walk with resident scholar monk Bhikkhu Anālayo. Bhante was very generous with his time, as he meets with few people and only had one opening this month. Still, the sense of enjoying the company of fellow monastics was palpable.
Bhante walked and along the country lanes with the Upavana monastics and talked for an hour, answering questions and asking some of his own. It was a great meeting of practitioners, with much mettā, delight in Bhante’s unparalleled seclusion and ability to practice at BCBS, and even an impressive impromptu joint recitation of SN 12.15 which by chance everyone had memorized!
Lunch was generously provided by staff members, several of whom are familiar with Tahn Pamutto from his previous incarnation as a monk who would wander unannounced out of the forest.
BCBS has been shuttered since the beginning of the pandemic but was more prepared than most centers to operate online courses and is doing well. It is poised to resume in-person courses very soon, many of which are already fully booked by practitioners who have been eagerly waiting its reopening.
BCBS, IMS, and the Forest Refuge are an invaluable Dhamma resource for the area!