I would like to share with you the transcription of a Dhamma reflections that I offered at Dhammaloka Buddhist Centre, The Buddhist Society of Western Australia, on 19th October 2012.
Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Sammasambuddhassa
Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Sammasambuddhassa
Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Sammasambuddhassa
Buddham Dhammam Sangham Namasami.
Good evening everyone. I am Bhikkhuni Seri, a resident nun from Patacara Bhikkhuni Hermitage. My teacher is Ajahn Vayama. I entered the monastic training as anagarikaa in 2002, and ordained as a Ten Precept nun in July 2004. I received my full ordaination as a bhikkhuni in October 2009.
Tonight, I would like to explore the concept of Spiritual Warrior. When we hear the word Warrior, we think of a fighter, a brave combatant, a person experienced or distinguished in fighting in an armed force, tribe etc.
The concept of Spiritual Warrior resonates with me. To me, Spiritual Warriors are trained and distinguished fighters on the spiritual path. They are not fighting on the killing field to harm. I associate spiritual warriors with qualities such as courage, determination, harmlessness, patience, truthfulness, integrity, renunciation, energy, lovingkindness, compassion and peace. Spiritual Warriors practise for liberation and freedom.
As a Buddhist Bhikkhuni, a nun, I consider the Buddha as an ideal role model of a distinguished spiritual warrior who attained liberation and freedom. The Buddha also taught and trained His disciples, leading them to liberation and freedom.
The Buddha was born into the Sakyan clan, the Khattiya, the warrior caste in India, more than 2500 years ago. The Buddha was not just from the warrior caste, he was a prince, who had power and good fortune. But the Buddha renounced his fortune to seek wisdom, liberation and freedom.
The Pabbajjha Sutta- The Going Forth Sutta in the Sutta Nipata, describes the encounter between the Buddha-to-be, the ascetic Gautama, and King Bimbisara, the King of Magadha in India. King Bimbisara saw the Buddha-to-be going for his alms and was impressed by his behaviour and conduct. King Bimbisara found out where the Buddha-to-be lived and went to see him.
King Bimbisara said to the Buddha-to-be:
‘You have the good looks of a man
Of high-born warrior-noble stock,
One fit to grace a first-rate army,
To lead the troops of elephants.
I offer you a fortune: take it.
Your birth I ask you also: tell it.’
The Buddha replied:
“’There is a prosperous country, sire,
And vigorous, right up against
The foothills of Himalaya,
Inhabited by Kosalans
Whose race is named after the Sun,
Whose lineage is Sakyan.
But I have not gone forth to seek sense pleasures.
I have gone out to strive, seeing danger in them,
And seeing safe refuge from them in renouncing.
That is my heart’s desire.’
The Buddha was clear and resolute in his quest for liberation. King Bimbisara tempted him with great wealth and fortune and the power of being the head of his armed forces. The Buddha was Immovable. He found refuge in renunciation, and determined to practise for liberation. He was a leader on the Spiritual Warrior path.
I love the Jataka story describing the battle between the Buddha-to-be, the ascetic Gautama, before he attained nibbana, and Mara-the tempter, the obstructor. Mara came with his large force to make a great effort and displayed much power against the Buddha-to-be, who was meditating and contemplating quietly by himself. The Buddha-to-be had no one there to protect him. The only thing he could do was to use his practise, to shield himself and as weapon of attack.
Mara asked the Buddha-to-be to get up from his seat. The Buddha-to-be said to Mara: “I have the right to this seat. I have been practising the Ten Paramis for many life times”. For your information, the Ten Paramis are: generosity, morality, renounciation, wisdom, energy, patience, truthfulness, resolution, lovingkindness and equanimity. The Buddha continued, “Even though I have no living being here with me, let this great and solid earth be my witness.” Then the Buddha-to-be, pulling his right hand from underneath the fold of his robe, stretched it out towards the earth saying, “Are you my witness?” The great earth resounded with a hundred, a thousand or a hundred thousand echoes as though to overwhelm the forces of Mara, and saying , “I was your witness.”
All of us are sitting here, inspired by the Buddha, aspiring to be Spiritual Warriors like the Buddha, aspiring to practise and train on the Spiritual Warrior path for freedom and liberation.
But, how do we train and practise as spiritual warriors? As a Buddhist, the spiritual warrior’s path is the Eightfold Path:
1.Right Understanding ( Samma-ditthi )
2. Right Thought ( Samma-sankappa )
3.Right speech ( Samma-vaca )
4.Right bodily action ( Samma-kammanta )
5. Right livelihood ( Samma-ajiva )
6.Right effort ( Samma-vayama )
7.Right mindfulness ( Samma-sati )
8. Right Concentration ( Samma-samadhi )
Tonight, the fact that we are here, seizing the opportunity to meditate, we are already planting the seeds, we are taking this step to be Spiritual Warriors. We are indeed following in the footsteps of the Buddha.
Practice as Spiritual Warriors does not mean a spectacular display of fireworks or thunder and cheers. The practice of Spiritual Warriors is like strands that we weave into the fabric of day-to-day living, whole heartedly and patiently with love and care. The practice is like collecting water into the bucket of liberation, drop by drop and moment by moment.
When we arrived and entered into this hall, we bowed down to the Buddha. We’ve already entered into the Spiritual Warriors’ path. Do not take this act of bowing lightly. Bowing shows and trains our humility. Bowing shows our respect and our gratitude to the Buddha, the teacher who showed us the path. We bow three times, first to the Buddha, then to the Dhamma, the teaching of the Buddha and then to the Sangha, the Community of those Enlightened by practising the path. Traditionally, when we bow, when we show our respect and gratitude, we bow whole heartedly, with our head touching the ground, both our hands and elbows are also touching the ground.
I remember hearing a story from my teacher. She told the story of a nun who could not see the point of bowing and used bowing as yoga exercise. The nun gradually saw and worked with the resistance in her own heart. Eventually, with greater understanding and connection with the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, she appreciated the beautiful gesture of bowing.
When we come to a Buddhist centre, we are looking for something that can lead us to peace, to freedom, to liberation. We aspire to be a spiritual warrior. We need to use the opportunity, any opportunity, to be awake, to look at the resistance and openness in our heart. Bowing seems to be a small gesture. When we bow, we are fully aware and mindful where we put our hands, our head and the movement of our body. We can use a small action and gesture to practise and to learn about ourselves, our mind and our heart.
I have an experience to share with you. This will show you that I was not a born nun, that I had difficulties like some of you with bowing and sitting cross legged on the floor.
I went to my first weekend retreat in 1998/1999 in Safety Bay with Ajahn Vayama. I was not used to sitting on the floor for a long time. So I stretched my legs and, not knowingly pointed my feet to Ajahn Vayama and the shrine, to relieve my pains and aches. Ajahn Vayama said to me: “The lady in red t-shirt, please do not point your feet to the teacher and the shrine out of respect to the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha!”
I was really angry with Ajahn Vayama for that comment. In my mind, I was saying, “Who is she to ask me not to point my feet! Doesn’t she know that my legs are sore!” Even though I was angry, I continued to stay on the retreat because I had taken time off work and had paid for the retreat! But, during the retreat, my mind was full of resistance. In the retreat, Ajahn Vayama conducted a walking meditation in a circle, and all of us were asked to walk according to the beats of her wooden fish, to practise concentration with a bit of fun! Because my mind was full of resistance, and being rebellious, I purposely walked slowly when Ajahn hit the wooden fish fast. And I purposely walked faster when Ajahn’s beats were slow. This created lots of annoyance among the other retreatants. One of the retreatants who was a music teacher told me later that she thought this lady had some serious problem! Even her year 1 students in her class can walk according to the beat! She did not realise that I was doing it purposely because I was rebellious and full of resistance towards the teacher!
I must admit at that time, I did not have the mindfulness to be aware of my resistance. I just acted out my unskilfulness! This seemingly harmless act of rebellion affected others on the retreat and caused them irritation and agitation! This particular incident must have left an impression in my mind that sparked the urge to walk the Spiritual Warrior path.
As Spiritual Warriors we need to be aware and honest with our feelings, actions and reactions in our life. We need to be awake and alert to our situation, to be fully present with whatever is in front of us and not to run away from life. We can learn and practise with whatever situation we are in for greater understanding of ourselves, for peace and ease, for liberation.
I would like to share with you one of the powerful moments that I experienced recently. I was at Bendat Cancer Centre in Subiaco. I was standing outside the toilet waiting for someone. Then, out the corner of my eye, I saw a lady with her hand on a drip, who was weak and frail walking pass. I caught myself instinctively turning my head away. I turned my head away because I could not bear the pain and suffering that I was looking at. Most of all, I recognised this fear, fear of suffering in me. The fear that it could be me. I was shocked by my reaction. When I was aware of my fear, I made an effort, a gigantic effort, to turn around and to look one more time. This time, I stood there watching this lady, another fellow being on the path called life, samsara. My heart melted and softened. I stood there sending good wishes and metta to her, “May you be free from suffering, may you be at peace and at ease.”
It was a powerful moment for me as I was shocked to see the fear of suffering and pain in my heart and surprised to see I turned away to avoid the pain and suffering. I was also grateful for the training and practice that I have undertaken. The training gave me the awareness, the willingness, courage and compassion to turn towards the pain and suffering. It allowed me at that moment to open my heart to the sufferings and pain of the person in front of me, and to open my heart to my own pain and suffering.
This experience reminded me of the Buddha’s three considerations or the three-fold pride as mentioned in Anguttara Nikaya- The Numerical Discourse:
“When an untaught ordinary man, who is subject to ageing, not safe from ageing, sees another who is aged, he is shocked, humiliated and disgusted : for he forgets that he himself is no exception. But I too am subject to ageing, not safe from ageing, and so it cannot befit me to be shocked, humiliated and disgusted on seeing another who is aged.”
“When an untaught ordinary man, who is subject to sickness, not safe from sickness, sees another who is sick, he is shocked, humiliated and disgusted; for he forgets that he himself is no exception. But I too am subject to sickness, not safe from sickness, and so it cannot befit me to be shocked, humiliated and disgusted on seeing another who is sick.”
“When an untaught ordinary man, who is subject to death, not safe from death, sees another who is dead, he is shocked, humiliated and disgusted, for he forgets that he himself is no exception. But I too am subject to death, not safe from death, and so it cannot befit me to be shocked, humiliated and disgusted on seeing another who is dead.”
These were the considerations or contemplations of the Buddha. Most of us only want to see beauty, love, health, happiness and success. We want everything to be nice and sweet, everything to be alright. Because this means we are alright too. We do not want to see, to know, old age, sickness and death. The pain and suffering is always in them but not us, not me. Old age, sickness and death are always out there, not in here. The Dhamma, the teaching of the Buddha, gives the spiritual warriors the tools, the strength to awaken to life as it is. The Dhamma and the practice also gives us the skill to be at peace and at ease and to love and be compassionate to ourselves and beings around us.
When we say we aspire to be spiritual warriors following the footsteps of the Buddha and His disciples who attained freedom and liberation, we need to commit ourselves to the training and practice of the Eightfold path. Not just one aspect of the path, but the whole package of morality (sila), meditation (samadhi) and wisdom (panna). It is like training for the Olympics, we need to be committed and we need to put in the work. Some of you may have heard of Sally Pearson who won a gold medal in the 100m hurdles representing Australia at the London Olympics this year. Sally Pearson at the age of 13, was inspired by Cathy Freeman in 2000 Sydney Olympics. Sally Pearson saw Cathy Freeman win the gold medal in the 400m race. If Sally Pearson had just dreamt to be a gold medallist herself and did not put in the work, she would not be standing on the Podium at the London Olympics. This is the same for the practice of the spiritual warrior.
Practising and training as a spiritual warrior, we are training and practising for our happiness and well being here and now, in our daily life not just at the Olympics. It is a marathon, not a sprint. We are practising and training as a spiritual warrior, for our own well being and peace and eventually this leads us to freedom and liberation. We can all be the Olympic gold medallists in spiritual warriorship, because there is not just one winner and it is not a competition. We can all walk on this Spiritual Warrior path together, help each other, encourage and inspire each other along the path.
I am going to share with you some female role models of Spiritual Warriors during the time of Buddha. Being a Bhikkhuni, a nun myself, I am interested in investigating the female spiritual warriors. These female spiritual warriors were born in India, 2500 years ago, where the society was strongly class and caste orientated and had fixed ideas and expectations of the roles of female. They were expected to be daughters, wives, mothers, grandmothers, or even servants, slaves and prostitutes. These female spiritual warriors had the courage, determination and confidence to break through the social constraints and limitations to seek spiritual liberation and freedom themselves. Some of them were not only the seekers, they achieved their goals, they attained Nibbana. To me, they are very inspiring. This is not the end of the story. The Buddha, in his radical gesture of compassion and wisdom, offered the female spiritual warriors recognition equivalent to the male spiritual warriors, the full admission to the sangha, as bhikkhunis. Because of these spiritual warriors, I have the great opportunity to follow in their footsteps to be ordained as Bhikkhuni myself.
I am going to begin with Venerable Bhikkhuni Sona. Venerable Bhikkhuni Sona, ordained late in life after bringing up ten children. After she entered the sangha, Venerable Bhikkhuni Sona practised earnestly. She was recognised by the Buddha as foremost in effort among the bhikkhunis. She would even pass entire nights in sitting and walking meditation, taking minimal rest. So as to avoid calling attention to herself she practised walking meditation during the night, in the darkness of the lower hall. She guided her steps by grabbing hold of the pillars, thereby ensuring that she would not stumble or bump into unseen objects. In this way her energy quickly gathered momentum and she attained liberation and freedom.
I was inspired by Venerable Bhikkhuni Sona’s determination and effort to practise for Nibbana. It reminded me that practice on the Spiritual Warrior path requires persistent effort.
I am going to share with you one of my favourite poems, by Venerable Bhikkhuni Citta, who came from a well-to-do family. Venerable Bhikkhuni Citta described her enlightenment experience on top of Vulture Peak in her old age:
Though I am thin, sick,
And lean on a stick,
I have climbed up Vulture Peak.
Robe thrown down,
Bowl I turned over,
Leaned on a rock,
Then great darkness opened.
This is extracted from “The first Buddhist Women” by Susan Murcott.
I love this simple poem. Vulture Peak was the Buddha’s favourite retreat in Rajgir and the place where the Buddha gave many of his discourses. It is steep and hard to climb. You can sit here, close your eyes and see Venerable Bhikkhuni Citta climbing up the Vulture Peak full of faith and determination to practise. Venerable Bhikkhuni Citta would have been climbing up there many times. This time, Venerable Bhikkhuni Citta’s breakthrough came with a simple and insignificant incident in her old age- leaning on a rock. “ Then great darkness opened” – she attained liberation, Nibbana.
The breakthrough, the transcendental moment on the spiritual path is often the culmination of many small and unspectacular efforts. It requires courage and awareness to be awaked. It requires commitment, patience and persistent effort and training.
I would like to share with you one of my unspectacular moments of training.
A few months ago I found a tear in my robe. I only have one robe. I needed to sew and put a patch on the robe so that I could wear it again. I am no expert in the use of the sewing machine so I decided to sew by hand. I estimated it would take me 2 to 3 hours. So I told Ajahn Vayama casually that I was going to do sewing in the afternoon and I would listen to the dhamma talks at the same time while I was sewing. I thought I would be bored sewing for 2 to 3 hours. I also did not want to waste my time by sitting there ONLY doing the sewing. I thought I was being efficient as most people were in their lives. But Ajahn Vayama turned around and said to me that as a monastic and training on the path, it would be better for me to train to do only one thing at a time. This gives a practitioner the opportunity to train to be fully present and to be whole hearted in what they are doing and what is in front of them. I tried to argue and justify my reasoning in my usual rebellious way and then walked away to do my work.
I must say, I did stop and contemplate the advice by Ajahn Vayama. I realised that I was following my usual conditioned habitual patterns to aim for the most efficient, the fastest, but not the practice, not to go against the stream. I changed my mind. I sat and sewed for three hours and paid full attention to sewing only. I used the opportunity to make a statement and to send a message to my mind and my heart of my commitment to practise for liberation and freedom. Ajahn Vayama never asked me afterwards what I did. But,I knew in my heart, I have chosen the spiritual warrior path. I have planted a strong imprint to practise for liberation and freedom.
I am going to finish the sharing of the Dhamma tonight, with a poem from “The Poems of Early Buddhist Nuns” by Venerable Bhikkhuni Sundari. To me, this is a significant poem.
Venerable Bhikkhuni Sundari’s father Sujata ordained as a monk after the death of his only son. Sundari was the only child left in the family. Her mother told Sundari that she could inherit all the wealth of the family. Even though Sundari was young, beautiful and with great inheritance and fortune, she chose renunciation and joined the sangha to seek spiritual freedom.
I am going to share with you the last part of the poem when Arahat Bhikkhuni Sundari went to pay respect to the Buddha after she attained liberation following the teaching and instruction of the Buddha. This is a significant poem because the Buddha recognised and confirmed the achievement of a female spiritual warrior, Arahat Bhikkhuni Sundari in the poem.
I am your disciple Sundari
And I have come from Kasi to pay homage.
I am your daughter,
Your true child,
Born of your mouth.
My mind is free of clinging.
My task is done.
The Buddha replied:
Then welcome, welcome to you,
The tamed come this way
To pay homage to their teacher’s feet.
Free of desire and its chains,
Your mind is free of clinging.
Your task is done.
I share this teaching with you. May the spiritual warrior path bring us happiness and peace. May the sharing of this teaching help us all on the path of practice for liberation and freedom.
I would like especially to dedicate the merit of sharing of the teaching tonight with a distinguished female spiritual warrior of our time, my teacher, Ajahn Vayama for her 60th birthday next weekend, for her well being and peace , and may she attain her goal, liberation and freedom, Nibbana in this very life!