It was a windy, rainy, and cold, cold, cold November eve. Nurses with smeared mascara stumbled through ancient, cobbled lanes with half-empty bottles of vodka in their hand. Vampires roamed vacant and near-leafless gardens, tapping inscrutably and incessantly into their smartphones. Century old churches, their brickwork slumped with age, perched on corners and serrated the skyline, their windows vacant and unlit. A Big Bird, confused and desperate, stumbles to his knees before the gates of these citadels of the Lord - and vomits.
No, not the apocalypse, as I had originally suspected as we drove down Trumpington, just Halloween in Cambridge.
The more restrained, or perhaps patient, students of Camb sat quietly practicing and contemplating non-Theistic ethics, ethanol-free, in an ancient classroom named, ironically enough, Godwin. But if God was anywhere that evening, He, or She, for that matter, certainly would have taken refuge with these silent and serene students rather than the roaming bands of half-naked cowboys and witches haunting the streets.
After being led in meditation by Than B, Luang Poh Sudhiro discussed precisely the quandary which these students now found themselves faced with: the pulls of partying and youthful revery and the simultaneous calling to live a life of greater integrity, principle, and worth. The topic which he discussed, prompted by a question by a student, was of the importance of seeing the whole of your life as practice, and to fit your practice to your life, rather than the other way around. Buddhism is not simply something that you do cross-legged and with your eyes closed. It encompasses and requires a new mode of being and relating to every aspect of our lives, from the lofty moments of ecstasy and insight in the womb of retreat to the stress and crunch of exams at semester's end. What matters is the attitude: one which looks at every moment as an opportunity to learn, to understand, and to let go.
As Luang Poh reiterated, again and again:
This is the beginning and the end of the path, and, fortunately for all of us, we can do this wherever we are and with whatever we are doing.
Students, and intellectuals in particular, are overburdened by their doubting and speculative minds. Luang Poh gently reminded this cerebral-giants to let go of living from their heads, and to ground their life, practice, and understanding from the wisdom which arises from their own lives and experience, not exclusively from books. Yes, it really can be that simple, if we allow it.
At the discussions end, the students slowly dripped out of the classroom, perhaps to do some devilish deed later in the eve, others, perhaps saintly. The monks returned to their 1970s bungalow called a temple where they could hear only the sound of rain.
A special thanks from us at the Vihara to all those who made that evening a God-win, Buddha-win, and even Krishna-win evening, especially the organizers of the event, the bold adventurers who dared to navigate the monks through the treacherous, apocalyptic Cambridge streets, and all the students.
Wishing us all the courage to practice right where we are.