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Buddhadharma : Fall 2005
buddhadharma| 51 |fall 2005 drinking water or cleaning up after a meal, and so on). And they are careful to talk only every fifth night, when they gather to discuss the dharma. Otherwise, they live together in perfect silence. The Upakkilesasutta confirms what other early Buddhist texts call the guiding principle of sangha – kalyana mitrata, or spiritual friendship. The three monks whom the Buddha found liv- ing together “harmoniously, as milk and water blend, regarding one another with the eye of affec- tion,” embodied kalyana mitrata. In the Samyutta Nikaya, the Buddha tells Ananda that kalyana mitrata is “the whole of the spiritual life.” Early Buddhism’s emphasis on friendly interper- sonal relationships among the monks may explain why the original Indian sanghas had no problem working out their conflicts in public. Today, while most sanghas prefer to resolve disputes in private, many dharma centers the world over still honor the early Buddhist community’s commitment to open- ness by holding bimonthly uposatha, or repentance ceremonies, on the full or new moon. During these ceremonies, sangha members ask each other’s for- giveness for any offense of “body, speech, or mind.” Also, Zen centers throughout the world observe the full-moon bodhisattva ceremony, ryaku fusatsu, in which practitioners acknowledge their karma, receive the precepts anew, and rededicate them- selves to practice. Similar rituals are performed by Burmese, Chinese, Taiwanese, Thai, and Tibetan Buddhists. But the ceremonies are not universally popular. At Metta Forest Monastery near San Diego, abbot Thanissaro Bhikkhu says the repentance ceremony ritual has become “so automatic that it doesn’t have any meaning anymore.” To complement the traditional ceremony, he asks that monks who feel they’ve violated the Vinaya rules discuss it with him personally, face-to-face. But that’s as far as Thanissaro Bhikkhu goes in bending the letter of the Vinaya. In most other ways, the monastery strictly adheres to the centuries-old rules. “For the monks, it really helps that we have such a clear code of behavior,” says Thanissaro Bhikkhu, an American who studied in Thailand for fourteen years before founding the California monastery. “We don’t have to get into arguments about what’s wrong and what’s right, and I find it really smoothes life among the monks.” Nonetheless, the tradi- tional rules haven’t necessarily been a natural fit for the monastery’s mostly American monks, espe- cially when it comes to airing conflicts. Thanissaro Bhikkhu blames the vast cultural distance between Thais and Americans. “When it comes to conflict, Americans usually try to see who’s right and get rid of the bad guys,” he says with a laugh. “The Asians say, ‘Hey, we all have to live together, so let’s deal with the wrongdoers without pushing them out of the group.’ For me, the most challenging part of being an abbot here has been getting Americans to accept that mindset.” Michael Conklin, the resident teacher at Kagyü Changchub Chuling, a Vajrayana Buddhist cen- ter in Portland, Oregon, encourages his sangha to respond to conflict by practicing shamatha, or calm abiding meditation. When sangha leaders gather for meetings, for example, one of them is assigned to ring a bell if things get tense. Upon hearing the bell, the group is instructed to stop speaking and to meditate on the emotions they feel. After a few minutes, the conversation is resumed. “I find in that situation that the strength of my emotional activity is often such that I can put my awareness on it with very strong clarity,” says Conklin, a lama who prefers not to use his formal title. “This way, the reaction doesn’t die, but I’m not carried away by it. It’s like crawling out of the river and watching the white water that just a moment ago terrified me. And we try to engender a sense of gratitude for the individu- als in this situation. Buddha said no one ever attains enlightenment except on the shoulders of all beings. This situation is a practical imple- mentation of that. The added piece, after resting the mind on the reactivity, is to see this situation and these people as a gift. If even three of ten people really do that, the space in the room really changes and the feeling is palpable.” Conklin is careful to note that this use of a traditional meditation practice is not a form of conflict resolution. In fact, Conklin is politely dismissive of such approaches as little more than “diplomacy,” and he worries that the increas- ingly common blending of Buddhist meditation with modern conflict resolution techniques risks “trivializing” the dharma. “I think we’re in danger of reducing [the dharma] to an aspirin,” he says. “We want to say, ‘If it’s useful and beneficial for others, do it.’ On the other hand, we want to be careful not to reduce this spiritual tradition to just an enhancement to psy- chotherapy or conflict resolution. As an authentic spiritual tradition, the view of the practice needs to be constantly expanded to include concerns that we have beyond this life – to an unbounded view that future lives will be a continual unfolding of this moment – and therefore that virtue in this life is about doing things that will bring about long- term benefit to me and others, as opposed to the short-term view that says, ‘OK, let’s ring this bell so we can get through this meeting without being too wound up.’ ” Dana Curtis believes most Buddhists – and every- one else, for that matter – would rather be right than be connected. Curtis teaches mediation at Stanford Law School as a member of Stanford’s Negotiation and Mediation Program; she’s also an advisory mem- ber of San Francisco Zen Center’s EAR Council and People tend to hide or avoid anger, because anger is one of the things Buddhists are trying not to express. And that can lead to a culture that’s unsafe. —Gil Fronsdal edSWoSzoWSki