Through life we wander, dimly aware that at some point it will end. What happens after that, we cannot know. We can’t even confidently say, ‘nothing’ – what, after all, would we mean by it? We can never know a ‘nothing’ in our own experience, which for the Buddha made it not worth theorising about. And if we accept there is no eternal soul either – well, what sort of mystery are we involved in, exactly?
Hopefully, then, we don’t just wander through life. We also wonder: we question, seek, marvel. It may be an accident of English spelling, but I like to think that the ‘wanderers’ or religious ascetics of the Buddha’s day were also filled with a sense of wonder: a reverence for existence and its mystery, a passion for uncovering the truth. They donned the robe, left home and went in search of a teacher who might guide them to it.
One such wanderer was Vacchagotta, whose conversations with the Buddha became canonical. Spare as they are in written form, they contain riches, some of which Subhuti helps us unearth in this new issue of the London Buddhist. His article is taken from some of his ‘Rambles’ or informal talks given here at the London Buddhist Centre, and well evokes their energy and deep thought.
First, though, a modern-day wanderer. Going in search of one’s teacher is not such an ancient practice, as Kate Grant shows us. On recovering from cancer treatment, she was inspired to make a pilgrimage in homage to Sangharakshita, the founder of our Buddhist movement and Order. In doing so she mapped internal change in her life on to the land itself. Her account of it is moving, with a light heart.
Shraddhasiddhi explores her relationship to the earth too, although this time on the vertical plane. It is when rock climbing, she tells us, that her meditation practice is really put to the test. Luckily, it is not all fear and clinging: occasionally she can access a state where the climber and rock become ‘somehow enmeshed’. It is not always as literal, then, as ‘this the figure, this the ground’ – so Maitreyabandhu says of Cezanne’s painting in his elegiac poem. Subhadramati’s poem on the opposite page remembers Maitreyabandhu hurrying to see a friend who was dying, passing from the busy-ness of life into another sort of wandering state.
This new edition of our magazine and programme goes to print on the eve of ‘Triratna Day’, which marks fifty years of a movement and Order that has given itself to the wondering life. We hope you enjoy celebrating with us. – Ollie Brock