A Beautiful Friend
Ajahn Jayanto, the abbot of the Temple Forest Monastery in Temple, New Hampshire, came to teach at VIMS for the seventh consecutive year this August. When he first came to visit us, in the fall of 2013, he was not an abbot, and there was no Temple Forest Monastery. The thought of a monastery was there as well as the intention. Indeed, Ajahn Jayanto was in the Northeast to lead the effort to establish the second US monastery in the Theravada Western Order of Ajahn Chah––the first on the East coast. Very soon after his first visit, land was found, support was garnered, and a monastery, formally named Jetavana, was founded. Dignitaries––monastic and others––from around the world were present for the formal dedication in June of 2015. The monastery continues to welcome such renowned visitors, including Ajahns Sucitto and Sumedho. The on-site farmhouse and guest quarters have been renovated, and kutis (simple dwelling huts) are gradually and steadily being built for the resident monks. The cadre of monks seems to be upwards of twelve now, and an appropriately laid-out and blessed hillside site has been created to ordain those men who, after several years of apprenticeship, choose to join the order. The young Samarian Jino, who accompanied Ajahn this year and last, entered full ordination outdoors in this beautiful setting on August 25, a few weeks after our daylong retreat.
Throughout all these remarkable changes and the exponential growth of his responsibilities as abbot, Ajahn Jayanto has continued to visit VIMS each year and to teach for us. This year (I learned afterwards), he interrupted a personal retreat period to do so. He is a kind and dedicated friend, a beautiful friend to VIMS.
There is a word in the ancient Pali language of the early Buddhist scriptures that many of us know. It is Kalyanamitta, and it is usually translated as “spiritual friend.” Mitta refers to friend, and Kalyana has most often been translated as “spiritual.” It is the same word that the Buddha uses to describe both the friend and the Path when he says to his cousin and chief attendant Ananda, “Spiritual Friendship is the whole of the Spiritual Path.” Recently I heard Gil Fronsdal, a Buddhist scholar as well as a dharma teacher, say that, even though kalyana has been generally translated as spiritual, the first meaning given for it in just about all Pali dictionaries is “beautiful.” Gil suggests that the word “beautiful” could easily be substituted for “spiritual” or “good” or “ethically wholesome” throughout the Dharma teachings. As I heard Gil’s reflections, I remembered hearing an astrophysicist talking about “beautiful equations.” He was referring to those which are efficient, clean, workable, and aesthetically pleasing––the mathematical equations that state a practical truth in a simple, complete, and pleasing way.
Ajahn Jayanto is a beautiful friend, and the fact of his monastic commitment is a beautiful teaching. His answers to the various questions posed to him about the two hundred and twenty-plus rules of the monastic order helped me realize his unshakeable faith in the renunciation of personal preferences and in the peace that the Buddhist Path offers––simply in the knowing of “the arising and passing away of each present moment, regardless of how things turn out, or don’t.” Ajahn was telling us something very important in the metaphor he gave us of so many people being like captains at the wheel of a ship––busily steering our course without realizing that the wheel is not attached to the rudder. He so clearly emphasized the role of intentions in our lives. When asked to speak to how we might best respond to the political and social conundrums and emergencies of our times, he strongly advised us to be clear about our intentions. Are they firmly rooted in good will, compassion, and generosity? Or are they coming from greed, hatred, or delusion? Are our intentions beautiful?
To read more gleanings from the wisdom that our friend Ajahn Jayanto shared with us, you can receive a copy of Karen Summer’s notes on the retreat by emailing your request to firstname.lastname@example.org.