First Steps

On Sunday, Tahn Pamutto arrived in Massachusetts. It’s been two and a half years since he was last a wandering forest monk, traveling up and down the country roads sharing dhamma, friendship, and the occasional cup of coffee. For the first two days of his return, the unfailingly hospitable Indonesian community found their perfect ambassador in the north – Lusiana and her mother Lauw. And Tahn led the chanting and meditation morning and evening.

From their porch on Monday night, Upavana hosted its first ‘online open-house’ to address the prospects of starting a center in the area. Half a dozen dear friends showed up throughout the evening to learn about the project and share suggestions, and notably not one Zoom window opened from residents of the same town. For three years, Tahn Pamutto wandered and met good people throughout the area, joining their communities and supporting the many styles and traditions he found already flourishing. It will be interesting to see how things unfold as he settles down and begins sharing his own style of practice, of the forest tradition, with others.

The tea time conversation on Wednesday focused on the idea of control. In the Anattalakkhana Sutta, the Buddha asks the monks, “Monks, can you say to your body – “Be this way, Don’t be that way?” With this question he was pointing out a subtle but undeniable fact. We have apparent control – we can move our limbs and style our hair – but when it comes to aching limbs or a sudden flu that can’t be avoided with any quantity of Vitamin C, we are shocked back to the reality that we are also passengers along for a ride.

Neither the perspective of being in control or the perspective of having no control is ultimate reality. Control isn’t a fact, it’s just a concept to describe our ability to influence a situation through our choices. We unerringly receive the effects of past decisions, but our present and future is built on the decisions we make now. So part of the Middle Way is knowing when to focus on the things we are in control of, like actions of body, speech, and mind, and when to focus on letting go.

Setting off on a journey can be daunting if we try to figure out how it will all go. But the end result is not something we can know at the outset. The point of greatest control is not the end – it’s just the very next step. That’s where our energy is best spent.

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