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Pastoral letter 4 from Acharya Susthama

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    • #2768

      @susthama writes:

      Dear Friends,
      Some of us in this Sangha like change. Some of us prefer to keep things just as they are. Some of us love to travel and seek out adventure. Some of us love to put down roots and nurture and care for our local parish. Some of us have made a huge jump in with two feet, while others gradually took a cautious approach onto this path.
      I am one of those who jumped in without knowing what I was getting myself into. Before that, I spent a long time travelling around on my own, as a curious atheist, interested in discovering new sights and learning new languages, until I got lost in my own lonely wilderness. Faith was something I had as a child, brought up in a Korean Christian family whose main mantra was “Jesus loves me, yes I know,” but it got shattered after my mum died. If God was so powerful as to give love, he was also the one to blame for taking it away. If I had to go through life without a mother, then I would do it without God. At that time I thought I had lost faith, but it was always there. What changed was the objects that I placed faith in. Faith in God changed to faith in myself, work, a lively social life, drinking, etc., and so it went on until I started feeling rather hopeless.
      Being hopeless is not as bad as it sounds. The stage before was probably a hundred times worse than actually being hopeless, for at that earlier stage I still believed that I was right. When I finally stopped and gave up all hope of ever finding something, or someone, right for me, that was when I started to see everything differently. It is a strange paradox how defeat can make you victorious. Indeed, that is how the Dharma works. Whenever our egos feel bruised or defeated, it is victory for the  Dharma.
      The Dharma was a welcome surprise in my life. Amida was my saviour and the Sangha became my refuge. Not all are as fortunate as I have been. Not long after I moved into the Buddhist House I made contact with one of my sisters, who had believed me to be a missing person. I had no idea that I had gone missing, but then, one year later, I learned that my eldest sister said a lot of strange good-byes, and left her home. She too, I thought, is probably just trying to find some things out for herself. But she was not as fortunate as I was in finding a safe refuge.
      I was quite prepared to return home, after not seeing my family for many years, and had planned to attend her funeral as a nun in robes with a shaven head on my own. But I was taught that in this Sangha we travel together with someone if we can. We were a small group at the time, but Sujatin, one of the few acting and dedicated ministers back then, agreed to come with me. What would she think? What would my family think?
      I was still quite new to Buddhism and rather inflexible and stubborn about what I could do, and rather than pump me up with motivational speeches, Sujatin taught me not to focus on myself, rather the opposite, just let the robe do it, and even if my family called me by my given name, she would call me by my Buddhist name, unashamedly.
      Sujatin means sweet birth or life. Susthama means sweet strength or stamina. Dharmavidya gave us our names for a reason. Similar to me, she sought refuge in this Sangha and was given a name to show her that a new and loving life was possible. Although married and living in Newcastle with her non-Buddhist, but supportive, husband, she followed a daily routine that was similar to the one I followed in community. And she too shaved her head and wore red, the main difference being the pattern of her robe.
      The word for robe in Sanskrit is kashaya which means stain. Buddhism is not about purifying ourselves, but more about accepting that we are far from pure. We may wish to be reborn in the Pure Land, but only those who are stained can get there. When the Buddha renounced his kingdom and princely life it is said that he gathered some rags from the charnal grounds and dyed them with saffron. The ministers robe has the two lines of yellow, similar to the two lines of clouds that are sewn onto the back of the wegasa across Amida’s sunset. These clouds symbolise our flaws as a human being. They are our prickles, our egos, our arrogance, and our delusions. And yet without the clouds we would not be able to look at the sun without blinding ourselves, nor would we see the magnificent pinks and purple light reflected in the sky because of them. When we wear them they remind us that we are not acting for our own sake, nor should we then be concerned about how we are doing or what others think. With the help the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, we can go against the flow and live a life that is sweet and loving.
      This Sangha has been through so much change since it began and Sujatin has carried on in a leading role with faithful willingness. Together with Padma as the new chair of Amida Trust after David and Caroline parted ways, and a few others, they helped form a vision for the Amida group in the UK. The Amida Trust, in which a new model has arisen has blossomed and they are still hard at work, together with other ministers and aspirants, planting seeds and cultivating a vibrant community both in England, abroad, and on the internet.
      I see a strength in Sujatin and our ministers and admire the work that they have been doing despite health issues and difficulties along the way. It has been inspiring to me and to others to know that we have senior ministers, nurturing the ministry team, and creating new pathways for others to join and be part of our particular school. I am forever grateful. Namo Amida Bu.

      Happy Easter. Here’s to new life.



    • #2772

      Thank you for an inspiring letter. Namo Amida Bu!

    • #2776

      Namo Amida Bu.

    • #2797
      Jan Wizinowich

      Mahalo nui for the inspirational letter and for sharing more of you story. We are so blessed to have a sangha that is a heart in the storms of this world. Namo Amida Bu, Jan

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