Today was a very special day for the Thai temple I support in Brookwood, Woking. The Vice-Abbot Phrabhavanaviriyakhun (Ven. Dattajeevo Bhikkhu or simply 'Luang Phor') came all the way from Wat Phra Dhammakaya in Thailand to officiate at the ceremony, culminating in the unveiling of a new name plate at the front (facing the roundabout!) at around 11a.m. Our temple is now called Wat Phra Dhammakaya (London). In the morning session there was also meditation, chanting and the offering of robes, providing many opportunities for people to cultivate bright states of mind.
In the afternoon Luang Phor Dattajeevo gave Dhamma instruction. He's very popular in Thailand and has given many teachings, including broadcasts over the radio. He seems very interested in education, especially knowledgeable - he's been up to Oxford and spent hours in various bookshops looking for books that can help him improve the way he communicates (when he came to Oxford he was mainly interested in the way the content was expressed and was particularly looking for 3D representations).
Indeed Luang Phor has previously given Dhamma instruction in English using quite a lot of visuals on OHP to describe the functionings of the mind. However, this afternoon he was more conventional, using mainly words to treat the subject of Kamma. The basis of his discussion today was the Cuulakammavibhangasutta in Majjhima Nikaaya, which translates as a shorter classification of actions. In the Pali Text Society edition it's MN 135 Book III, but the Thai numbering systems appears to be completely different. Thai and English translations were distributed, the English one coming from Vipassana.info
Thanks to Phibul Choompolpaisal, a group of us received very useful translations from Thai. We thus heard how the Ven. Dattajeevo's explanations of kamma were rich and varied, with many illustrations, yet all contained within a coherent whole. I'll only quickly paraphrase here. Every volitional act creates kamma; to know which is skilful and which is unskilful requires a neutral mind, but this in turn requires cultivation. It doesn't happen by itself; it's important to develop sila (precepts), and practice chanting and meditation every day. This helps to refine the mind, so that gradually it can assess things in an unbiased way, with an intuition for knowing what's right and what isn't even though the results may not be immediate, rather like planting seeds, that may take a long time to bear fruit (of course, planting seeds is not sufficient by itself - they need nurturing through sun, water etc). And you can apply this to many spheres, including employment.
Practising good deeds generates punya, which is roughly translated as 'merit', which is like a pure form of energy that can fill and empty, in the same way as fuel. Every time you breathe in, you're using up some merit, because life (at least in human form) is meritorious. Thais seem intuitively to know the value of merit very well and hence the Sangha has been well sustained (and, it's claimed, why Thai food is so tasty!) If you do not cultivate merits across a broad front it may mean that even if you try to practice intensively, you may not have the right supporting conditions. (In a similar way at my mother's cremation service the late Ven. Dr Rewata Dhamma also emphasised the need to make and transfer merits to the deceased - like providing good soil for a seed to flourish.)
I had also been invited to join another special ceremony today at the Oxford Buddha Vihara, the Kathina robe offering ceremony and 3rd anniversary. Fortunately, my cousin Jo, was able to come to the rescue and be my representative. We both enjoyed our respective occasions :-)
P.S. I'll see if I can obtain some photos - I didn't have a camera with me.