Thursday, 22 July 2010

Accepting & working with the nature of community life

Why are some people having such a hard time in spiritual communities & does this mean spiritual communities are bad or being run badly? The nature of community living in a Spiritual setting no matter what religion will always have certain characteristics

These are:

high standards
mentally ill visitors


there are two factor that bring this about

1) everything becomes important
2) there is no distraction

Everything becomes important when we become spiritual. When we are not spiritual we don't take anything seriously. Life is a game where we just have fun & relax. Nothing we do or say is of any importance as long as everyone is fed & watered. When you turn spiritual how you speak & act suddenly becomes very important. How you think and your goals become important. Even how you dress if you become a monk or a nun. Suddenly everyone is watching you to see how you behave. Death becomes important, the suffering of others becomes important........everything becomes important. So suddenly without noticing we can become very serious or not be relaxing much. All our activities can be very stimulating. Even asleep we can be tossing & turning thinking about how to help people or save the world. In other words we can become quite intense.

Many spiritual communities there is no distracting things like television. Normally with television we take a total time out from our life & just switch off for a few hours becoming completely immersed in stories of other peoples lives. Removing a distraction such as television means that we will continuously focus on our thoughts without any distraction. Which is good if they are good thoughts. But if we get stuck with an unhappy mind or are fretting about something such thoughts could go on endlessly & seem very intense. A non spiritual person wouldn't have examined the situation with such intensity & might have even forgot about it because they were distracted by a movie or another worldly entertainment.


If you have a problem with the way you relate to people it will suddenly multiply as you begin a close bond with a large amount of people. For example if you are judgemental to people you are close to, you might find yourself doing it more than usual. If you have a problem with self esteem and you see 10 people & are thinking that they don't like you it can make a feeling that is normally small much bigger. This is inevitable if you bond with a large amount of people & form a close relationship with them. It can be useful to identify negative minds or habits but it can also be quite intense.


In a place where a large amount of people live it cant work without compromise. You cant simply say I want to make noise, be untidy and this is just how I am learn to deal with it. Nor can you be a perfectionist unable to accept that people are doing human things, pushing people to do things your way and to your standard. There will always be a variety of personalities in a large group. It will only work if people negotiate together so that everyone can find a happy solution. Stand offs where neither will compromise need to be discouraged and resolved via compromise & negotiate by long term community members. if the long term people are teaching the community to do standoffs & not negotiate or have friendly communication there will be many obstacles developing & feuds.

The learning of many things will come very quickly living in a group because you either succeed in cherishing others or you fail. You have to learn good social skills to be successful living with such a large amount of people.


This can be good or it can be done wrong. When one is watching ones thoughts or behaviour all day its possible to become completely cut off from other people. When a non spiritual person is mainly focused on the people around them or has their mind on sensory enjoyments a spiritual person can be very solitary. In Buddhism we say that most negative minds come from thinking about oneself all the time. This can manifest in another way once one starts working on oneself. Suddenly taking every negative thought very seriously one can intensively enter a very private world of 'its just me & my mind'. With no distraction it can seem our personal problems are there all the time and that we are focusing on them more & more. If we successfully transform into focusing on positive contemplations this is great. But some people in any given spiritual community will inevitably end up focusing on problems & things they are unhappy about & be quite solitary in this as they fail to overcome or resolve these feelings.

High standards

pressuring oneself to be perfect & feeling we have to do everything right or else it will affect peoples faith especially as monks and nuns

Mentally ill visitors
When people get mental illness they immediately look for therapy counselling etc. Even people who would never consider Buddhism and are anti religion suddenly want to run to places such as Buddhist classes with almost a desperation if they have a breakdown. My own relative hated all religion and never came to the centre in the whole 10 years I have been a Kadampa. Suddenly they had a breakdown and I visited them in a mental health ward. They were barely able to communicate and were unrecognisable but absolutely desperate to goto the Buddhist centre and become Buddhist. Then when their mental health was restored once again they returned to having no interest in Buddhism. This experience shows to me why Buddhist centres can have many problems. Imagine if my relative had turned up in a state of hysteria, speaking incomprehensibly.

I myself have just been to my local centre. There is a person who attends and everyone tries to be compassionate and help them. Today I was told by this man that I am a bodhisattva with miracle powers even though I hide it. He told me that I and other emanations refuse to help him and cure his illness, that I choose to leave him in a suffering state. He wanted to know why I didnt use my miracle powers. He interrogated me for 10 minutes like this saying why why. He said if I dont do my job he should go write a letter on the internet saying how the Kadampa tradition is bad and the people are uncaring. After 10 minutes of this I started to get upset. I am human after all. When he saw I was unhappy then he really started on how Im a fake Bodhisattva and not being proffessional ie not doing my job. It was as if the next level would be punching people and saying transform that! Or that they are unproffessional if they dont smile and be patient.

When people know its your role to practice patience, compassion etc they can start being absolutely horrible to you, just to see you struggle, curious how you will respond, testing you to see if you really are a nice person or 'one of the fakes'.
People complain that if they go around attacking or belittling someone verbally they are asked to leave the centre. But this is the situation of many residents. They live at a centre for many years and people are coming in and doing things like this. Probing them and trying to push their buttons. Some people are subject to constant judgement and abuse such as admin directors. Someone takes on one of the most difficult jobs to do and is treated with nothing but contempt. We need to ask ourselves, if I took on one of the most difficult jobs and whilst doing it people looked at me with loathing, how would I feel? If I tried to better myself as a person and I got people randomly coming up to me trying to prove I am a fake how would I feel?

Overcoming the obstacles

Stopping the blame game

We can see that most of these factors will necessarily exist wherever there are monasteries. Yet we often claim these are obstacles of our own spiritual tradition claiming if our tradition was run differently these things wouldn't happen. And these factors (intensity/seriousness/perfectionism etc) led people to abandon religion before we were even born. So how can we say the people to blame are the people who are alive today.


Relaxation, try and don't worry...these ring any bells? This is Buddhas advice & Buddha is the Dharma protector. The Buddhas are well aware of these problems we have.
Many people are very intense about spiritual practice & then create so many obstacles that they end up giving up. It is far better to practice at a mediocre standard for ones whole life because then observers will not see an endless stream of people giving up or falling flat on their faces. Its more inspiring to see someone consistently enjoying themself for their whole life than to see them setting a perfect example & then falling apart, In summary the relaxed person who thinks everything is not important will often prove more consistent & reliable. Such of person will decide to not put immense pressure on themselves & think- what I say think & do is not a big deal. What is a big deal is that I am relaxed & enjoying & having fun. If the teachers tea is lukewarm its not the end of the world. The important thing is I'm here doing my bit & if its not a big enough bit then tough. I'm relaxing & not going to be overly intense.
Many people have cared for the teacher very well before letting them down. These people thought that serving tea in a special cup and many other trivial things were very important. In reality this can lead to a downfall because having your head full of trivial things claiming they are important can make you forget the big things which do matter such as representing Buddhism well, which is certainly more important to Buddhas than what type of teacup they are offered.
Distraction is not always negative. In Buddhism we learn to turn our mind to wood or to another object. If one is fretting over something & getting a very negative mind, it is not taking refuge in worldly objects if one puts their mind elsewhere. You don't have to keep thinking about the situation till you have solved it. You can put down the Rubiks cube & try again later. So why not go out with friends & relax have a fun time & then come back feeling refreshed from time to time.

So truly who has made the morally right choice. The person who sits in their room grinding endlessly to overcome a negative mind and getting themselves in a right state. Or the person who goes for a bag of chips downtown & just forgets about the whole thing? The opponents of delusion take many years to cultivate. You do a bit of work each day to increase your understanding. So if whilst you are waiting for understandings to grow you stave off a delusion with a distraction or by just forgetting about it this is not a big deal. Stop taking it so seriously, relax! Maybe if those people who left had such an approach they would still be here & developing understanding of Dharma year by year. But many of them were so determined to be perfect that they only practiced Dharma for a few years. Now their whole life revolves around TV, newspapers, money and sex etc. How can eating a bag of chips or going to the cinema be negative if it is removing your mind from an incorrect way of thinking that is damaging or making you tense.

Good relationships & feeling able to ask for support

Now this we have seen what a state someone can get in & pretend that they are OK because they believe its very important to appear perfect we can see community people would function better as friends where you can tell them your not perfect. In Dharma centres communication needs to be encouraged & supported. Older residents need to be heard as they have a wealth of experience. If there is a problem in a community everyone needs to be able to offer their opinion & ideas how to solve it. If in a community the long term people are being pushed to keep silent & not express an opinion then that shows a big obstacle has developed. As soon as this is seen action needs to be taken because these communities are something that IS important and do need to be take seriously, between bags of chips of course.

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