A Bodhisattva has no ground to stand upon - the ground that he or she stands upon is the Dharma. One who hears the Buddha is a light unto him or herself because the Dharma is his or her light. If this is not correctly understood, great mistakes will be made. There are those who think that being a light unto oneself means doing what suits oneself, but this is delusion. Only insofar as our light and our ground are the Dharma are we true to our calling and this in the long run yields the most wonderful life. Every compromise with Mara's darkness reduces both our effectiveness and our satisfaction in the longer run.
It is in accord with the Dharma to be friendly to all. Sometimes it is difficult to be a good friend. A good friend always does what they believe to be in the good interest of the other, even though this may not always be what that person wants or believes to be best. A good friend may even be in the position of doing good for somebody who is hostile. This means: do not give up on the other party.
I always try to ensure that what I take my stand upon is the Dharma and not just my own comfort or convenience and, within the parameters of what Dharma requires, and to do everything I can to avoid wounding others and to heal whatever breaches may occur; to always be open to the possibility that one's own understanding of Dharma may be improved upon, but to take Dharma as my constant Light. Nonetheless, I do not always succeed and even what I have learnt about this matter has involved quite a lot of trial and error - or, we could say, learning the hard way..
Living in a Dharma community we get much experience in these principles. When people live in close proximity there can be friction and distrust that can easily grow. This is human. However, we learn by experience of being a sangha that it need not be disastrous. We learn the real power of love and faith. We learn that such incidents can become the raw material for spiritual progress when we practise nei quan and chih quan in daily life - when we see them as Tathata light shining through - as opportunity to get beyond our selfish habit. The trust and mutual respect that grows up on the far side of difficulties that have been faced is much stronger than the fragile co-operation that goes on between people whose relationship has never been tested. To get to such a point, however, we often need to resort to the help of our friends as third parties. The sangha meets and listens. If we take our stand upon Dharma, then we have no mind to judge, but only to try to heal.
When the Dharma is our steady light, we can persist through difficulties without becoming spiritually harmed thereby, whereas when we do something to ease our own short term difficulty at the expense of others, it always comes back upon us later. Sometimes it requires great care to steer a steady course. Perhaps, for instance, one’s friend needs help so one tries to help him. But perhaps the help that the friend wants is help to accomplish something that is not entirely wholesome and perhaps the fact that this is so only becomes apparent gradually as the plot of a situation unfolds. Or, perhaps one’s friend has become compromised in some situation that she would have been wiser to have avoided. Or perhaps one's friend is out of sorts today and still smarting from some hurt real or imagined. These sorts of situations are not easy. One begins from the position of love and continues in that, but patience and persistence in it are needed and finding the best practical course may sometimes defeat us. All this may be even more difficult when the other party is not a member of the sangha or even is an organisation or other relatively impersonal body.
For all these reasons, life in the world is complex even for those who have the best of intentions - and we all know all too well that our intentions are seldom totally pure. Therefore, it is very important for us to help one another and, in particular, to help one another to discern a wise path.
I feel immense gratitude for the fact that I have good friends that I can call upon. That I can ask you, my friends, to share your perspectives, enables me to get a more all-round view of things. Since I have the responsibility for making many of the final decisions in our sangha, life would be almost impossible for me and dangerous for us all if I were not able to consult with you in this way. It seems to me, therefore, that our sangha has a special excellence in having good arrangements at many levels for mutual consultation and I do urge all members of the sangha to continue to develop and use such arrangements. Never be too proud to ask a good friend in the Dharma for their perspective. You may not be able to see things as he or she does completely, but it is always useful to know what the situation looks like from a different angle. As we go on each person in the sangha tends to take on more responsibility. We must all learn how to carry this responsibility with dignity and proceed in harmony together and this requires that we continually have resort to one another for good counsel.
One of the biggest hurdles to be overcome by a new member of a spiritual community, especially if they have been brought up and educated in an individualistic social context, is the task of learning to think in terms of the collective instead of in terms of the individual. Until this shift is made, people find it very uncomfortable trying to live in the spiritual community, but once they have made this transition many things that previously were troublesome cease to be so and become sources of deep satisfaction. This is intensely true for those who live in The Buddhist House or another residential sangha community. The broad principle, however, also applies across the sangha as a whole. It may, nonetheless, be quite difficult for those who have never experienced the communal life to appreciate how important this is, so for this and many other reasons, I urge those who live independent lives to arrange to spend period in community from time to time.
Our Amida-shu is founded upon the three points: the trikaya nature of the Tathagata, the bombu nature of the practitioner, and the nembutsu nature of all practice. The trikaya means that Nyorai guides in three ways - practically, spiritually and absolutely. To discern that guidance we must help one another and learn to listen collectively. The bombu nature means that we each do our best but none of us can be entirely confident that by oneself alone one can discern the right path. The nembutsu nature of practice means that our Dharma life is the unfolding of a relationship, not merely the application of static principles. As we walk on we become lost and again found and again lost and then found once more, and so it continues. This being so, our pride is continually eroded.
Soon we will have our December retreat and celebrate together the Light that came into the world one 8th December long ago. The sangha is growing. New members are joining Amida-shu. Some people are preparing to enter the Amida Order. Some are preparing for ordination. This is a great joy. It is wonderful when people make an outward public declaration of their faith. It is, however, the faith itself that really matters. The deep reason to rejoice is the growth of faith and trust within our community. This means that we increasingly learn to trust that we are collectively led by Amida and that we can therefore increasingly trust one another and work together always seeking deeper harmony.