The Whole of the Holy Life

Ajahn Karuṇadhammo • June 2013

With many people away, it’s so quiet I can hear the water dripping over the sound of our breathing. We can have our own little retreat here today, which is always the way it is here regardless of the day. We can use every opportunity to practice mindfulness—to be aware of where our body is and what our mind is doing and ask ourselves, Is this a skillful state of mind or is it an unskillful state of mind? Am I distracted? Am I in touch? Am I so absorbed in what I’m doing that I am not really seeing what’s going on with the people around me?

The title of Luang Por Pasanno’s daylong retreat at Spirit Rock today is “The Whole of the Path: the Fruits of Spiritual Friendship.” Many people know the sutta where Ānanda says to the Buddha, “The Saṅgha is half of the holy life,” and the Buddha replies, “Don’t say that Ānanda; it’s the whole of the holy life.” The opportunity to practice with people is one of the unique features of our community. Where would we be if we didn’t have support from people when we are having difficulties or the feedback from people when we are missing the mark? The qualities of mindfulness, self-awareness, and sensitivity to other people are strengthened with the reflective guidance of spiritual friendship. Many of us are in need of individualized guidance for our training, and we support each other in this. We embody the sense of community and the sense of care and concern for each other. This is where the fruits of living in a community can truly be seen, especially in juxtaposition to people who lack support and have difficulties going it alone.

It can sometimes be challenging to rejoice in and take advantage of the opportunity to practice within a community. Because of this, it is useful to remind ourselves that it may not be here forever. Circumstances change, communities change, and we never know where we are going to find ourselves next. If we keep this in mind, we can use the opportunity we have here to be sensitive to each other, to be mindful around one another, to orient ourselves to our present experience, and to feel a sense of appreciation for the community we live in.