First and foremost I should make it clear that my teacher is the Buddha. And while the dhamma is a living and breathing guide for each of us, the Buddha himself is of course dead. But many years ago I was also blessed to have found a living teacher of the dhamma when I finally met Bhante Sujatha.
Bhante Sujatha originally let me know some very important things that I had never been aware of previously in my practice. One of which was explaining to me not only what “sangha” is, but also what it really meant and why it was important. I have since come to learn that Buddha even made this very clear to Ananda, which can be read in the Upaddha Sutta:
“…Ven. Ananda went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to the Blessed One, sat to one side. As he was sitting there, Ven. Ananda said to the Blessed One, “This is half of the holy life, lord: admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie.”
“Don’t say that, Ananda. Don’t say that. Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life. When a monk has admirable people as friends, companions, & comrades, he can be expected to develop & pursue the noble eightfold path.”
This initial teaching from Bhante Sujatha was only the first of thousands more to come. Many times finding myself asking what now seem like very stupid questions. But in his gentle and kind manner, I was always answered in a way that never left me feeling ignorant or diminished. Always showing me great patience and wisdom without ever speaking as though he was my superior or the authority. Kalyana mitta (spiritual friend), Noble friend, and sangha were all encompassed in the way in which he associated and communicated with me. With this being as true today as it was that very first time that I met him.
I can see where many people might think that Bhante Sujatha is an enlightened being. His boundless love, compassion, goodwill, acceptance, charity, equanimity, virtue and wisdom certainly seem to be beyond that of any mere mortal that I have ever known. And while I do not think he is enlightened, I do see him as the most beautiful example of what all of us are capable of becoming.
You see, I know for a fact that he feels physical pain, faces many financial difficulties, and experiences all of the same emotions that we all do. It is not that he has risen to some state above this, only that he has learned more about the nature of this life than most of us. And he has also cultivated the Ten Perfections to a degree that is highly contagious to all who know him.
Recently, during his annual humanitarian visit back to Sri Lanka, Bhante Sujatha was awarded the highest monastic honor and named the Chief Sangha Nayaka (Patron) of North America. Shortly after this happened, it was announced that the Blue Lotus Temple would be having a homecoming celebration for him and to honor him and his accomplishments. Initially I must admit, I found this to be just a bit off-putting. My aversion seemed to stem from the thought that this seemed somewhat idolic and egotistical. And as much as I love him, I would hope people could see him as he is and not some supreme being to be worshipped. But then it occurred to me, there are so many people like me who have such tremendous love, respect and gratitude toward this man. It is not only me who wishes to say thank you. It is not only me whose life has been changed and impacted by his presence and example. And how selfish and egotistical for me to perceive it any other way for even one second!
Like many people, I used to be very upset when Bhante Sujatha would travel out-of-town. I would be thinking about how hard it was going to be to not have his presence, his guidance and his smile. But thanks to his teachings and my own practice, I am now grateful for that time that he is gone. Understanding clearly, that the more he is gone, the more people he touches. The more people who hear the dhamma, and the more people who experience true loving kindness in person.
Until the day he dies, I know that my teacher is truly your teacher. A gift to the World, brought to each of us through the living dhamma. The same dhamma that cultivated this beautiful human being is the same dhamma that is available to each and every one of us.
Thank you Buddha, thank you for the dhamma, and thank you for the sangha. And I am so grateful that Bhante Sujatha is apart of that sangha. May he be blessed by the Triple Gem and be free of samsara.