I had another great meditation course at Tushita this morning. Then we were informed that because it was the full moon, there would be a special reading of the Sanghata Sutra. Interested in hearing the reading of the sutra (upon discovering it would be read in English), Juliette and I decided to stay for it. When we got to the gompa, they had laid out copies of the sutra on several low tables in front of the meditation mats, and Hedwig (yes, again Hedwig) explained to us how the reading would commence and how being a full moon day this was more auspicious than other days in which to read or chant, and that it would disperse more “positive energy”(her words) than on a normal day. We were told that we would each read the sutra aloud simultaneously but at our own pace.
A couple of months ago I was in Bhutan and on a few occasions was in a monastery in the presence of many monks who appeared to be mumbling, chanting, reading — the composite sound was quite nice and unique to the environment, but I remember having no real idea what they were doing. As we began to read, that particular mystery was solved and although the composite sound was still quite nice to my ear, it no longer contained the question I had posed. I knew now that we were doing the same thing, only in English.
As I got several pages into the text however, I was not so happy. The sutra is full of hellfire and brimstone, reward for good behavior and punishment for bad in a way very similar the Hebrew Torah and Christian Bible. In other words, just in the ways that religion likes to motivate people, by threat and promise. I certainly didn’t come all this way in life just to pick up that old bag. I put down the sutra after skimming the rest, mildly off put.
It was interesting how at odds this sutra was from the lovely odes to universal compassion for all beings that are at the center of our meditations. And to me, how at odds with the core of Buddhist ideas involving awareness and release from craving or aversion. Oh well. The meditations are still great, and compassion is still great. As always for me, the imagery and ritual get in the way of the big ideas.