Jan. 23, 2023

Dharma Is Simply Service | John Waite

Dharma Is Simply Service | John Waite

Our guest today on Treasure Mountain is John Waite who was born in post WW2 United Kingdom and brought up to be fiercely independent. From a young age he was searching for a better way to live in the world and was influenced by the simultaneously pol...


Our guest today on Treasure Mountain is John Waite who was born in post WW2 United Kingdom and brought up to be fiercely independent. From a young age he was searching for a better way to live in the world and was influenced by the simultaneously political and spiritual principles of Mahatma Gandhi. Travelling to India in the 1970s he was touched by the kindness of the Indian people despite their modest means. A chance meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala was a turning point on his spiritual journey. Later Joh would go on a two-week meditation retreat in Queensland an was pleasantly surprised when every thorny question and challenge to the teacher was warmly received and returned with wise, well-considered answers. This led him to commit himself to the path of practice. He was influenced deeply by Lama Zopa’s emphasis and example of being of service to others. John put this philosophy into practice enthusiastically as a volunteer fire fighter, ambulance medic, trade union steward and later as the Director of Hayagriva Buddhist Centre in Perth for 17 years helping to bring many great Buddhist teachers to Australia and supporting his local community of practice.

John is an old friend of mine and we worked together to found the Buddhist Council of Western Australia around 2005, and we also participated in getting the Federation of Australian Buddhist Councils off the ground around the same time. Not only did I appreciate his calm and steady presence in the work we were doing to bring the various Buddhist groups together for a common cause, but also his insistence that all the Buddhist traditions have the same heart of dharma at their core. I think his attitude was prescient as we enter into this post-sectarian Buddhist renaissance in the twenty-first century.

And that’s why I wanted to interview him on the podcast. In one sense this interview is John Waite’s Spirit Story, about his path into practice, but on the other it’s telling a broader story about Buddhism as it moves into the West, specifically into Australia, and where it may be heading in future. I’m so glad you’ve joined us as we seek for the Dharma within…

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Thank you for listening to the Treasure Mountain Podcast. If you enjoyed this episode please share it with you friends. If you'd like to support me to produce this type of content in future, you can support my work by offering a tip via the Ko-fi payment applet.

 

 

May you be happy!

Sol

Transcript

Robot Generated Transcription - expect errors!

Sol Hanna

0:01

Welcome to Treasure Mountain, the podcast that guides and inspires to find the treasure within human experience. Our guest today on Treasure Mountain is John White, who was born in postworld War II United Kingdom and brought up to be fiercely independent from a young age. He was searching for a better way to live in the world and was influenced by the simultaneously political and spiritual principles of Mahatma Gandhi. Travelling to India in the 1970s, he was touched by the kindness of the Indian people despite their modest means. A chance meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala was a turning point on his spiritual journey. Later, John would go on a two week meditation retreat in Queensland and was pleasantly surprised when every thorny question and challenge to the teacher was warmly received and returned with wise, well considered answers. This led him to commit himself to the path of practice. He was influenced deeply by Lama Zopa's emphasis and example of being of service to others. John put this philosophy into practice enthusiastically as a volunteer firefighter, ambulance, medic, trade union Stewart, and later as director of the Highgraver Buddhist Center in Perth for 17 years, helping to bring many great Buddhist teachers to Australia and supporting his local community of practice. John is an old friend of mine and we worked together to found the Buddhist Council of Western Australia around 2005, and we also participated in getting the Federation of Australian Buddhist Councils off the ground around the same time. Not only did I appreciate his calm and steady presence in the work we were doing to bring the various Buddhist groups together for a common cause, but also his insistence that all the Buddhist traditions have the same heart of Dharma at their core. I think this attitude is prescient as we enter into this postsectarian Buddhist renaissance in the 21st century, and that's why I wanted to interview him on the podcast. In one sense, this interview is John Waite's spirit story about his path of practice, but on the other it's telling a broader story about Buddhism as it moves into the west, specifically into Australia, and where it may be heading into in the future. I'm so glad you've joined us as we seek for the Dharma within.

John Waite

2:46

Welcome to Treasure Mountain. How are you doing, John?

Sol Hanna

2:49

Very well. Good to be talking to you, Sol.

John Waite

2:53

I am really glad that you are. It nearly didn't happen because as a volunteer firefighter in the Australian summer, you were called out this morning. How was that?

Sol Hanna

3:03

Yes. We never quite know what the day's schedule is going to be, but 1s some poor people had lost their house this morning.

John Waite

3:13

Yes, true.

Sol Hanna

3:15

Very nice to be able to at least reduce the amount of damage that was inflicted in their life.

John Waite

3:24

Yeah. And that is a volunteer role. And I think that, in one sense is all the effort and doing this in a hot summer's day, but then giving up your time at the drop of a hat, geez, that would be difficult. I admire you. My hat's off to you. Well done. Look, let's get started from the beginning. How long have you been practicing Buddhism and how did you first get interested and start practicing?

Sol Hanna

3:52

Okay, so I seriously committed to Dharma back in 1980. I was interested in there, but before that but it was on the periphery of Dharma rather than being an actual practitioner. 2s Basically, some challenges in life led me to deciding in 1980 to go to a two week retreat in Generasic Institute in Queensland. At the time, that was the closest Mariana center I could find in the tradition I was interested in. And 1s I was very pleased with the experience of being able to spend days in meditation and listening to the teaching. And what particularly pleased me is that questions were welcomed, 1s that there was no subject that you weren't allowed to question as deeply as you felt like. And to me, this was very refreshing compared to some other traditions I had talked to in the past. So I was. 1s I fairly quickly came to realize that I was in the presence of a very great teacher.

John Waite

5:10

Who was that teacher, by the way?

Sol Hanna

5:13

Keshi Tinley. So he was lonely, ishi's half brother, the resident teacher of Generosic Institute at the time.

John Waite

5:20

Okay, 1s and can you remember any of those thorny questions or any of the issues that you raised with Gessi Tinley?

Sol Hanna

5:30

Some of them were funny. They were just cultural differences. 2s For example, 2s we were discussing good and evil at one stage, and I tried to raise the devil as an example of evil that couldn't be challenged in Western tradition. We tend to believe the devil is inherently evil. And that's it. 4s After a while, he just burst into a smile and just said, but even the most evil person must have some beneficial fact redeeming factors. So we should.

John Waite

6:12

Yeah, right. That's a really good answer too. And it is, it's it is. You know, we're brought up in this Western tradition, and we do have certain assumptions, and then when you come in to cross a good Buddhist teacher, they just it is it's a totally fresh perspective. I did want to go back a little bit to I think it was 74. You're on a personal quest, and you ended up in Durham. Salah, could you tell us a bit about that and the impact of that meeting?

Sol Hanna

6:42

Okay, so 2s to most people, I think it would be a very minor meeting. But first of all, I was delighted when I arrived in Durham solo to be amongst the Tibetan refugees who really at that time had only recently come out of Tibet. And I was impressed that 2s they were handling the situation incredibly well and building with bigger a new life for themselves in a completely different country. 3s The actual incident has impressed me so much as I say would sound quite trivial to people. But I was just

John Waite

7:29

sitting at a cafe in the street, because when I was traveling, I used to like to sit in different locations to observe people. And I felt that gave me a bit of an understanding of the culture I was experiencing. Anyway, for some reason, a lot of people started running 3s from behind the cafe out into the open space in front of the cafe. And I thought, oh, goodness. What's upsetting them? That they're running away from something? Then somehow I realized they weren't running away from something. They're running towards something. But I hadn't seen any indications that anything was happening. And then, quite unexpectedly, the gates of the Dalai Lama's palace opened, and the Dalai Lama came out in an open top Mercedes ben's car. And it wasn't a conversation that took place. It was just somehow just being in his presence. I knew I had experienced quite a profound moment in my life, and it made me think a great deal about what I had come across and. 2s To cut a very long conversation short. Basically, it led me to investigating Dharma to find out what 1s made that event special. 2s Another incident that actually is on a very similar line that happened later in Nepal was that I was stopped from swimming in Lake Poker because King of Nepal sent his navy out to ask me not to swim in front of his lake. And I

Sol Hanna

9:16

went down to a river every day off there to swim and meditate. And 1s one thing that struck me is, on the way down to the river, I think it was the left hand side, there was a Tibetan refugee camp, and on the right hand side, there was a Nepalese traditional village. And my mind had really thought 2s the Nepalese village being established should have happy people in it, and the refugee camp should be full of suffering because they've actually lost everything they had. And I was actually delighted.

John Waite

9:50

To see

Sol Hanna

9:52

these Tibetan refugees were the happy people. They were optimistic, they were working towards the future. And again, that left me to work out what is the difference? And the only difference I could really come to was that they were practicing dharma. Thank you for telling those stories, because I do think that tells us I know in my own experience, some pretty trivial chance encounters were of huge significance to me. But I also think you've touched on with that latter story about the Tibetan refugees. You've hit on a point which is really, really profound because I know in the west we sort of can get caught up in, like, philosophizing, but the proof is in the pudding. And being in the presence of happy people who have a good basis in their spiritual lives and being happy is the thing that really changes one's heart, I think. 2s Very much, and it's something I try to remind 1s people over the years, that all the great teachers I've come across have got 1s a beautiful sense of humor and even the enormous pressure. They're quite happy, quite relaxed. And so I think we as Westerners, we tend to get a little bit too uptight about practicing, and we really need to look at how they handle issues and learn from them.

John Waite

11:30

Yes, I totally agree. Now, on that topic of teachers, I did want to ask you because I've been a little bit closed minded so far with the Treasure Mount podcast. I've only been 1s talking to people from my own tradition, which is my comfort zone. I wanted to go a little bit out of my comfort zone and learn something, and hopefully the audience will as well. And we'll talk about in the Tibetan tradition of Mahayana Buddhism, the role of Guru devotion, and how can we understand it better? So this is being devoted to one's teacher or teachers, and it's very important in Tibetan Buddhism. I'm not so sure that it's that different in Terravala. But what's your approach? How should we understand it?

Sol Hanna

12:16

So I think in Mayana Buddhism, it's

John Waite

12:19

set out a little bit more clearly than I've read in Theravaden. And probably at this point, I should confess that I don't have a great depth of knowledge of Theravada. So if I do say something that people see me as putting down another tradition, it's certainly not meant that way. So please just give me an advance. Getting back to the guru devotion, the first mistake I think many students make when 2s we're thinking about taking on our teachers, we

Sol Hanna

12:57

take them on without investigating. And the damage on this that we must investigate particularly clearly. Because once we establish that relationship, we actually do have to carry out the advice of the teacher if we want to make progress. Of course, if something goes wrong, if we do make a mistake, there are ways of dealing with it, but it's not advantageous to get in those positions. So we do need to investigate the teacher clearly. 1s And make sure that they are the teacher that will lead us forward.

John Waite

13:32

I think that's a really important point. I think that's actually no difference between Terravara and Tibetan Buddhism, and perhaps there's none at all. But I do think that is there something there's some real benefit from, once you've done that investigation, 1s to kind of trust in your teacher. Is that the way you describe it, have a trust? Or is it something else? How would you describe it?

Sol Hanna

13:56

It's a very deep trust that, of course, we build up over years.

John Waite

14:03

I've been far from a perfect student for Llamasopa Rimpache, but he's been incredibly kind and generous. With all my different failings.

Sol Hanna

14:17

I found his advice, if I have the courage to follow it, it always works out well. Which

John Waite

14:23

has really surprised me, because some of the advice, when you first hear it, you go, that's a bit unusual, that's a bit different. 1s But 2s my personal experience is that if I do actually carry out that advice, quite unbelievable things can take place.

Sol Hanna

14:44

Probably an example that everybody would relate to very well is that 2s I was in retreat in Indonesia with Rinpoche when my center got in contact with me and said, you're, you need to come out of your retreat to handle an 1s opportunity that has arisen. The property next door to the center has become available for sale, and we'd like your guidance on whether to start negotiating or not. 1s It was a perfect opportunity. I managed to secure an interview with Remote. 2s In the past, when people have asked Rimpache for advice on buying property, there have been all sorts of clauses and conditions they have to achieve before the purchase can go ahead. But this time, Randy just laughed and said, buy it. 4s That was pretty clear advice but it was interesting times. So I got back to the center and said look, we really need to buy this. And 1s we started. Nothing actually really happened for some reason until I arrived back in Australia but we started negotiating with the owners. It was the middle of a global financial crisis which turned out to be to our benefit in some ways in that I managed to secure a very good price

John Waite

16:14

for the House and then I had to go to an international meeting for the FBMT in France. 1s I said to the rest of the committee, I gave a couple of people on committee 2s list of contexts to approach for finance and I was a bit puzzled while I was in France that no progress was being made. And 1s so when I came back from France I basically said what are the holdups? Can you explain this to me?

Sol Hanna

16:48

And without being critical of the other people, I think they just felt that 1s I'll put it this way. There's at least some feeling that because it was the heart of a global financial crisis, it wasn't a good time to put the center under enormous debt. 3s On a logical aspect, I could understand that, but I said no. Reinforcement was actually be clearer than he's ever been that we need to buy this property. 1s So to cut a long story short, we applied to the 1s sources that I thought would come to the party. It did require a personal guarantee to actually push the loan over the edge, but we got the loan. But the point that I really want to make about Guru devotion is, yes, the subject center now had a very large mortgage, but within three years, very generous donors had actually paid off that mortgage.

John Waite

17:51

I laughed when you first said that. 1s Some of the advice can be a bit strange, and you can question it, but when you do often, it's usually almost, in my experience, always turns out for the best that I've been in situations just like what you've described. And it's remarkable. And I think you do need that leap of faith sometimes. And I think our cultural conditioning as Westerners makes us so skeptical, and skepticism can be good, and questioning is good, but there comes a time where you just kind of got take that leap of faith. And so that's actually quite a nice story. 3s I wanted to get back to the 19. I wanted to kind of ask you a little bit about your 1s experience of being a Buddhist in Australia, in the west as well, because it sounds like you've traveled a fair bit 1s back in the 1970s and 1980s. I mean, the idea of being a Buddhist was considered you were pretty weird. What was your experience back then when you told people that you were getting into Buddhism?

Sol Hanna

19:04

So, yes, it was certainly different. Just to compound on the difference, when I was investigating most actively, I was now working 1s on a farm in a small community called Meredith, just west of Cogent. And you can imagine the local library had absolutely nothing on Buddhism in the library, but they were very good, and they 2s applied to the University of Western Australia, and after some time, a lot of books were coming down from the university. But one of the issues I found is that

John Waite

19:46

they were often very intellectually written, so it was hard to grasp the fundamentals of what they were talking about. And I think, in hindsight, that they were actually probably. 2s Some of them were probably not the best translations around. So I think today we have such a wealth of good translated original texts or clear commentaries by teachers that understand those texts, it's actually much easier to come to understand 1s what Dharma is teaching.

Sol Hanna

20:27

So finally I was actually 2s made contact with the very early 2s Buddhist society of Western Australia and started getting some better texts. And then from my personal climate connection, I managed to make contact with a nun at generation who was

John Waite

20:48

very

Sol Hanna

20:51

passionate about overcoming the obstacles of getting material to me in this remote corner of Australia.

John Waite

20:59

Did you find that it was a little a little bit of a struggle to get into to find good teachers and to get into Buddhism at that time in the 1980s or did you find it actually people were very open minded and it was not so difficult.

Sol Hanna

21:15

So that would depend on which particular 2s people you are talking to. For example, the farmers around me thought that I'd probably had too much of a good thing out in a paddock somewhere and 2s they wondered what was happening. But other people, of course, were also experimenting with different ideas for society themselves. So these sort of people were very supportive.

John Waite

21:41

But having said that,

Sol Hanna

21:44

there wasn't very much clarity around as to what was a genuine path, a genuine practice. There were many people being drawn into some of the teachers that we've since 2s found 2s might not have been on a genuine path. 1s So I'm talking not talking about in Buddhism particularly. There were some people that were set themselves up as spiritual teachers that 1s were saying they were something different from traditional practices.

John Waite

22:20

Yes, well, I remember 2s yeah, like the rajanishi's or the orange people back in the they turned out to be pretty suspicious in terms of what they're up to. You've been around buddhism for well over 40 years now. How do you think social attitudes have changed since then? I mean, in a time, you know, now, when every man in his dog is getting into mindfulness and mindfulness based cognitive therapy is a mainstream practice, do you think buddhism has become mainstream?

Sol Hanna

22:59

I think it needs to become mainstream. I think 1s a lot of people resist actually going into a temple. I think they find it quite a challenge to step into building where they've got no idea what's going to happen to them once they actually step through that front door. So mindfulness, of course, it depends on the teacher. There are some very good people teaching mindfulness, but. 3s The thing that disturbs me a little bit, I guess, is that 2s a lot of these teachers, because they haven't studied the Dharma, I think they're actually missing some very critical parts of the teaching that would benefit people enormously if they could be taught those teachings. 2s I think this applies to all of us. I think it's very easy to get into a practice without investigating enough, and it's very easy to rely too much on faith without doing the study to appreciate just how fortunate we are to have this material available to us. So I think we really do need to study, and not just study, but actually then sit on a cushion and really examine our minds.

John Waite

24:21

I think the comments you made about how people in the west might still be a bit afraid of coming through the front door of a temple, like they're going to get mugged and converted or something like this. And that's not how it works at all. Do you think, though, mindfulness, I mean, some of the original progenitors of mindfulness who were Buddhists, who were in the field of psychology, academic psychology, and they decided to let's bring this one bit of the eight four path mindfulness and teach it to others. What are your overall perceptions of that? Is that a good thing or is there something that's missing in terms of there's much more that we couldn't be offering in terms of the Buddhist tradition.

Sol Hanna

25:12

So, again, it's a very

John Waite

25:13

complex

Sol Hanna

25:16

position to debate.

John Waite

25:20

I would say that 2s all of us need to encourage scientific investigation of all the different principles put forward in Dharma. Because Dharma really does have the answer answer to just about every fundamental question that's plaguing a problem for current 1s civilization. 3s Just the other day, I was listening to the ABC and I was actually quite delighted when the scientists started talking. He didn't use this language, but he was basically talking about how individuals see the world through their individual karma. And I thought, this is really interesting that we're actually getting scientists explaining karma on television. Now, this is

Sol Hanna

26:11

quite a leap forward. So we need that investigation.

John Waite

26:15

We need

Sol Hanna

26:20

people to understand 1s the teachings properly. 1s So, yeah, any investigation is helpful. Mindfulness is just trying to present in a different way and it will benefit some people more than others. But getting back to one of your fifth

John Waite

26:39

questions was that I think think we are mentally missing something at the moment, we're just talking about mindfulness. For example, we 1s missed some of the teachings on guru devotion, which actually we 1s believe very strongly that we can't make

Sol Hanna

27:00

clear progress without a sense of Buddha, because they I think life is like trying to explore a big river system with a whole series of creeks that we could get stuck up if we haven't got some guidance. And I think the teachers just help us say, hey, John, I don't think that creek you're paddling up is a particularly healthy one. I think you should actually come up this creek here. So they just help if nothing else, they help us reduce the amount of investment, investigation, exploration needed to reach the goal we're aiming towards.

John Waite

27:40

No. And I think it's also kind of a beautiful frame of mind to be like the devoted frame of mind. 3s Conceit melts away. And of course, conceit is such an obstacle to practice for all of us at some point. So I think it can be really helpful. But I wanted to also kind of draw our discussion to the topic of service. And this episode is titled Dharma is simply Service. And that's one thing which I don't think many Westerners would think about as being a very important part of the path when they first approach it. But for those of us who've been doing it for a while, we really come to appreciate how important it is. So I'd like to ask you about your service to the FPMT, which is, for those who don't know, the foundation for the preservation of the Mahayana tradition, and perhaps also about the Buddhist Asana, more generally, because you were director of the High Agriva Buddhist Center for 17 years. So from your point of view, why was this service so important important to you? And what kept you going? 3s Okay, so just before we get into answering that question, I think we do need to,

Sol Hanna

29:06

again, be clear what the teachings of the Buddha are saying 2s here. I'd refer to the two purposes of life, the two purposes of practice. So everything we do, it should be an offering to the Buddhas. Also, everything we do should be done in order to benefit all sentient beings. Not just ourselves, but all sentient beings. And this leads us into a much broader vision of life. When we're not just concerned with our own immediate happiness, 2s we can experience a very great depth of relaxation and growth

John Waite

29:54

that allows us to reach states that previously we probably wouldn't have acknowledged existed or if we had read about them. We probably had some doubt about their existence.

Sol Hanna

30:08

So the actual service, 1s basically, 3s having met Lamarzopa Rinpoche, he's such an incredible example in his own life, in that how many of us really meet somebody that their whole life, every living moment, is devoted to doing something to benefit other people, other animals, 2s to try and create the opportunity. For example, 1s Luma Zopa talks very much about blessing animals so that we can actually free them from their negative activities, so that 2s even if in this life

John Waite

30:50

they're still in that lifestyle, in their next reincarnation, they do actually have the opportunity to have a higher reboot. 2s He's so many tough stories about him. 1s His attendant, Roger, who served him for many years, has always had quite a challenge on his hands. He wouldn't express it like that. He delights in serving Rimpasham, being around him. But an example is that, 1s according to the story, that one day roger was driving with Rimpochet to get to the airport in Gaia, coming from Bod Gaia, and suddenly Rimpochet saw somebody in the street and he just said, Stop the car, stop the car. And he felt that he really needed to talk to this person right then and there, and he did so, and he was blessing the person. And Roger is in the background saying, rimpochet, the airplane leaves in an hour. Can we please

Sol Hanna

31:52

and get to the airport? 2s Anyway. So I think there'll be many occasions when Rogers finally got Rinpochet to the airport only just in time to get on the plane, because all along the way there's, people at Rimpache is trying to help in many different ways.

John Waite

32:10

Do you think that's been a guiding philosophy for you? Because when you take on a role, like being the director of a Buddhist center, I mean, sometimes everything is going to go smoothly, but there are going to be times when everything just goes wrong and you have to deal with conflict or problems. Must surely try your patience. So what guides you through all those difficulties? 1s So, again, this is where Guru devotion really becomes a very powerful tool. That when I look at the example of Brimpachet and I think, what he's doing every moment of the day, then I think, surely I can handle this. If he can handle all that, surely I can handle this. 1s And 1s the reality of it, that when things are going upside down or sideways or

Sol Hanna

33:06

totally disappearing from under your feet,

John Waite

33:10

it's temporary. And we're actually taught by the Buddha. There are ways of creating the karma that will bring it all back together again, and that is the solution that we harmony, for example, in the center, is critical, and

Sol Hanna

33:25

that's the most important role of a director, is to maintain that harmony. 2s And it can be challenging because humans, being humans, always like to find a difference between them and somebody else.

John Waite

33:42

We can't let that stop us. We need to find a way around it, remind people of the teachings, 1s move ahead. Of course, it helps having really good teachers at the center, because you can actually say, could you focus on this subject today? I think people actually need to hear that.

Sol Hanna

34:02

Yes.

John Waite

34:05

I really love the way that you said that when you devoted to serving others rather than yourself, 4s you said it makes you much more relaxed. I thought that's a really great way to look at it. Do you find, though, also you get a sense of joy from serving others?

Sol Hanna

34:26

Think it's the most profound sense. And sometimes 1s it takes a long time to realize that something you've done has had

John Waite

34:34

a big effect on somebody. Sometimes you do think, what am I achieving? And then I've been very fortunate that over the time, people come up to you and say, thanks for what you did five years ago. That actually totally transformed my life. And you go, oh, really? And it sort of makes you realize that 2s there's a lot of benefit to what we're trying to do in the centers.

Sol Hanna

35:03

And again, if we all work together, we can achieve it

John Waite

35:09

right. Now, I do want to take you up on that topic because I want to 1s ask you something I've not asked you before, 2s and I guess I had always assumed that your motivations were the same as mine. I want you to cast your mind back to the period when we were working to establish the Buddhist Council of Way, and also we're working to get the Federation of Australian Buddhist Councils together with our colleagues over in the Eastern States. You remember we visited Melbourne and we went to Bendigo. What was your guiding motivation at the time to get everyone working together, because it was a bit of a tricky task to do that as well.

Sol Hanna

35:52

A tricky task. Ask but first of all, I'd like to say that working with you and Man Wong from different traditions was just a pure joy that we could come together and have many hours of debating the best way to establish a constitution.

John Waite

36:13

And I haven't talked to Manmong for years, but I still hold both of you in such high regard. 1s Those times were very precious. I've probably had some slightly unorthodox views in that 1s at one stage, I was thinking that to establish dharma in the west, we should actually have one Buddhist center that taught all the different traditions. 2s Having learned a bit more about some of the traditions, I think that could be quite an interesting challenge. So basically, I was like a university where you we have managed it in the past, like Nalanda did manage it, that we had many traditions working together in the land that did thrive. And it's actually a fundamental part of 2s our teaching, for example, that we cannot thrive in the Mariana unless we have a fundamental respect for Hina. And when we go to Vadriana, we can't progress in Vadriana unless we have a fundamental respect for Maryana. So.

Sol Hanna

37:22

Bringing them together. I think it's something we need to do. It's also something that

John Waite

37:32

I think society gives Buddhism a lot of credit for, the fact that we don't have major

Sol Hanna

37:40

rifts between the different groups, that 1s we do come together on fundamental issues, and we don't have any

John Waite

37:54

religious wars between us or some of these other problems that you see elsewhere. For example, the Dalai Lama, when he's teaching, he always invites a different tradition to recite the Heart Sutra before the teaching. And I 1s find a great delight in seeing people from different traditions getting so much joy. And it was a surprise to me many, many years ago seeing some Terraviden monks rejoicing 1s in the Dalai Lama's teachings on the emptiness. And I'd always had somewhere I'd picked up the view that they didn't actually believe in emptiness, certainly not in the way we were taught to believe in it. So it was quite an educational moment for me to see these monks on stage with the Daily Lama rejoicing in his teaching on emptiness. And it made me realize that John White had to pick up his socks and learn a bit more.

Sol Hanna

38:57

So it's by coming together that we learn, basically, and 2s I have to concur on that. 2s Yeah, I'd really concur on that. And I have to say and I, you know, it's a shame in some ways I don't we don't have Man Wong here because he was a very really good presence when he we were working on that with the Buddhist Council of WA. But the thing I I went in, I was quite young at the time. I was still in my late twenty s, and I was a bit defensive, I think. I wasn't I didn't really know much about the the other Buddhist traditions, and I guess I was a little bit kind of in my own bubble, but I was immediately put at ease by both yourself and also Man Wong, and did immediately found that we had so much in common. And I think your expression of saying that we have that common heart of Dharma, 3s I think that was a very poignant way of phrasing it. And in some ways I think that your idea, ambitious as it might be, to have like one Buddhist central, perhaps like a Buddhist university where all the traditions are, I don't think that's a silly idea at all. Maybe that's exactly the kind of thing we should be focusing on here in the west, is to bring those traditions together. 1s Because I feel like we kind of.

John Waite

40:24

We just get like when I hear from you or other Tibetan Buddhist teachers, they always get a fresh perspective and I just it kind of just charges me up a little bit. And that's really good. So I don't know, what are your thoughts on you think we should do this? Should we start a Buddhist university?

Sol Hanna

40:43

I think we've been shown this example at several different times in history, and 1s really, we need to spend a bit more time looking at what we have in common, rather than trying to find what we have as a slight difference of ideas. Having said that, we do need to study, we do need to understand very clearly what the traditions are saying so that we can progress along the path. So I'm not saying there's no differences, but we have to be clear about them and not see them as impediment, just differences. So, for example, 1s the thing I delight about going to the monasteries in India is that debate is actively encouraged. So you see monks becoming so passionate about what they're debating, they're actually leaping out of their meditational posture and clapping their hands. And in one case, I

John Waite

41:41

remember very light

Sol Hanna

41:43

heartedly, two monks trying to push another monk off the stage because he was saying that something they fundamentally disagreed with. But it was very light hearted, it wasn't violent, but I just felt a great delight in that passion in discussing different ideas. 1s And I think we we can have the site in a university setting where, okay, we've got different ideas. Let's actually talk about it, and let's work through it and let the end result being that everybody achieves a benefit.

John Waite

42:17

Absolutely. Yeah. No,

Sol Hanna

42:20

the lander I've mentioned, and also the Rigby tradition in Tibet, which is where which was formed on the basis of trying to get different traditions coming together.

John Waite

42:35

Yeah, there are. And I think the Narpa University in the United States is trying to do that as well. So I think this is something it's an opportunity. I think if we can kind of see any differences that we have, not as an obstacle, but rather as something that could actually be really useful, because there is that debate. We can sharpen up our own ideas, even if we don't always agree, that can really benefit. Having these different kinds of having that pluralism, I think, is really beneficial. But I do want to ask you a question 1s about something which affects obviously, I want to ask from your perspective, but it does affect both our traditions and of course, sometimes both of us, I think, value our traditions a great deal because they give us stability and continuity. But in other ways they can hold us back from making important changes. And I don't just mean in the political sense, but in the ethical and spiritual sense. And one of the issues that both your tradition and my tradition and Buddhism in general is grappling with in the 21st century is the role and status of women. What are your views on what the role should be and how Buddhism needs to change in the 21st century?

Sol Hanna

43:55

Okay, first of all, there have been many people working on this question

John Waite

44:01

and really wanting to produce a result. I would have to start separately from Buddhism here and I believe society as a whole. Until we allow women 1s to be truly equal, we cannot overcome the issues we have in society. We have to give them

Sol Hanna

44:25

the ability to live a life. We have to give them the freedom to work within the problems they have. 6s And we've come a long way in some sort, but we still got a long way to come. For example, I was talking to some friends in Nepal the other day, and they were mentioning just how difficult it could be for a woman if her husband left her and there was no support. So we have improved that. But there are other areas where.

John Waite

45:07

We've had equal opportunity laws in Australia for, I think it's 30 years now. But we still don't have equal opportunity in the workforce, so we need to overcome those. Coming back to Dharma, there are obvious stories about discrimination in different cultures

Sol Hanna

45:27

that we really need to work to overcome. For example, 2s I know some of the reasons behind full ordination not being offered in every tradition, but somehow or another, we need to overcome those obstacles. And instead of just seeing them as immovable, we need to find a way through. Because 2s Budget was very clear that women do have just as much ability to become enlightened as men. So why are we creating obstacles on the path for those people?

John Waite

46:02

Yeah, I have to say, from my own point of view, there is the issue of equal opportunity. But if you look at the broader issue, why wouldn't we want women to become enlightened? That's ridiculous. If we would all benefit from that, 3s what are you? 2s What do you think is everything that you're doing or people you know are doing to make changes with intimate and Buddhism right now in terms of

Sol Hanna

46:34

I can't say that I'm doing anything other than supporting people that I agree with. But we do have many examples. One of my main teachers, Kundala, is 1s an enlightened being in female form in this life and 3s experiences, although they're very minor experiences, any experience I have had with her has just really left me with a feeling of wanting to achieve the levels of mind that she's achieved. Very inspiring operational teacher. And again, beautiful sense of humor. So she can teach with that humor there. So it doesn't have to be all serious.

John Waite

47:23

But

Sol Hanna

47:24

we do hold people back. We make it difficult for. 2s People to have the freedom to get visas and passports.

John Waite

47:37

Do you think that presently there is a movement within Tibetan Buddhism to make change?

Sol Hanna

47:44

And I think most of the great teachers want that change to take place. 2s They're just finding very challenging to actually get to an agreed position as to how that will take place. For example, the daily life has been very clear sometimes that it should happen. 1s I believe the kamara has been very clear that it should happen. So these are people in the heads of their traditions or very high up in their traditions. 3s There just seems to be too much debate on how to achieve it. And sooner or later we have to say, well, let's set all that aside and actually deal with the fundamental teaching that Buddha gave that women are just as capable of becoming enlightened as men. 2s And the women in this world need to see that. And so we need to 1s come to a position where we can allow them to achieve that, to see that so they can achieve that.

John Waite

48:56

That, obviously is one of the big issues in Buddhism today. But I also wanted to ask your thoughts. Where is a process, and I would personally say very early in the process of seeing the Dharma move from Asian countries and spreading into Western countries, 4s where do you see Buddhism is going in contemporary Australia? Where do you think it's headed at the moment? And are there any weaknesses that need to be addressed as we continue to grow?

Sol Hanna

49:38

That certainly requires a great depth. 2s So at times I feel very inspired and that we're going forward. But also, I think we are often not presenting 2s the teachings clearly in a way that can benefit the general population. I think we managed to attract 4s some 1s particular groups in society, but I think we've actually got to look at different ways of presenting, particularly, 1s for example, if you go back 1s 20 years ago, I'd say, yes, we're doing very well how we're presenting. But now I think there are challenges arising in society that we have to allow for in the way the workforce has changed, that people don't have as much spare time as I was fortunate enough to have when I was younger. 1s I'm sure some people do have that time, but so we need to. 2s I think of ways we can present the Dharma in very

John Waite

50:53

meaningful but short ways, rather than making it too difficult for somebody to pick up

Sol Hanna

51:01

an interest.

John Waite

51:02

But surely I think

Sol Hanna

51:04

once they pick up that interest, they will then really follow it through. But we have to do the work first so they can pick it up. Do

John Waite

51:12

you think perhaps there are 1s several major threats to 1s create a human welfare at the moment, notably climate change, 1s and then there's other issues like, for instance, artificial intelligence and could that get out of control, and various other things at the moment. 1s Do you think that Buddhism should be trying to address or present ideas on how to deal with that which may be of interest to the broader society? 5s We certainly need to be considering every challenge that arises in everyday life.

Sol Hanna

51:58

But I think sometimes we 4s fail to just go back to the roots of the teaching, which is, as the Dalai Lama said at one stage, my religion is kindness. And we need to remind people that 2s it's as simple as being kind to each other. And from that, everything can grow. 2s So coming back to what we mentioned earlier on about service, if we're actually I think one of the fundamental problems in Buddhism is it's often seen that we're sitting on our meditation cushions, not interacting with society. And

John Waite

52:45

I think meditation has a very strong position in helping people. But in the minds of a lot of Westerns, it's seen as an escapism. And this is where we need to be actually a bit more on the forefront. And we actually need to be taking example there for some of the great religions helping society actively in so many different ways. For example, if there's a group that we know are struggling, why don't we help them in some way?

Sol Hanna

53:17

Environment at the moment is very important. We need to be active in environmental care because environment is fundamental to Buddhism. If we don't care about every individual in our environment, then we're missing the point. I think there are some directions we actually need to put some emphasis on that maybe aren't given the emphasis at the moment.

John Waite

53:42

Okay, well, I wanted to wrap up this interview with a question because you've been involved with practice for such a long time, and I think experience and time gives us a sense of perspective. So I'd like to ask a question which hopefully draws out your sense of perspective. Based on your many years of experience. What advice would you give to your younger self and perhaps also to someone else starting out on their journey with the Eightfold Path? 7s I think it comes back into some things we've said already. 1s But I think the big one is to make sure you start on some firm foundations. So do investigate the teacher you're relying on to introduce you,

Sol Hanna

54:38

to

John Waite

54:39

make the effort to actually find out what is really being said rather than thinking you've understood it. Because I think it's

Sol Hanna

54:49

because we're dealing with 1s ideas that might be 1s quite different from what we've heard in the past. I think it's easy to pick up the wrong end of the sticks, 1s just to take the time to be patient with yourself, to be patient with the people around us and 2s give credit to philosophy that has been robustly existent for 1s quite a few centuries now.

John Waite

55:19

And we

Sol Hanna

55:20

actually have examples that we can go back on. But of course, that doesn't come at the initial stage. But I think this is something we also forget is that. 1s We are living in a tradition that has historically for centuries produced the great leaders that that 3s tradition needed at that point in time. And so it is a progress, it is a progression that we keep moving forward and to be open to the idea that aspects of Dharma that were focal at one point might not be the focus right now 2s to try and get a deep understanding of what is available in Dharma as possible.

John Waite

56:13

Oh, gosh, I wish I'd got some of that advice when I started out because patient I was not. Anyway, look, John, I really am grateful for taking the time to come on the Treasure Mount podcast and sharing your story. May all the merit you've made lead you to complete freedom.

Sol Hanna

56:34

Thank you very much, Sol, and thank you very much for what you're doing. I think this communication 2s amongst traditions and amongst groups in society is actually very important to the health of society. So thank

John Waite

56:48

you very much and I do want to do more of that. So stick around because I want to get your advice on who I can interview next. Look, I want to thank all, all of our listeners for joining us for this insightful episode of Treasure Mountain, which John Wait, a long time, follower, member and servant of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama's Foundation for the Preservation of the Maha Yana Tradition, or FPMT for short. If you'd like to find out more about the High aggrava Buddhist Center or about the FPMT, please check the links in the description below. This podcast Episode if you enjoy this podcast, I'd appreciate if you could share this episode with your friends or other people who could benefit from its wise advice. Treasure Mountain podcast is part of the Everyday Darma Network. You can find out more about the Treasure Mountain Podcast by going to the link in the description below. Or you can do a web search for Everyday Dharma Network. You can also find out on the Treasure Mountain Podcast website information about the previous episodes and guests, as well as transcriptions of our interviews. And if you go to everyday darma Net, you go to that home page, you can discover more about the three other podcasts on the network and links to subscribe to any and all of them. I think you might like them, but tell me what you think by contacting me via the Contact page because I really would appreciate your feedback. I hope you'll join us again for the next episode of Treasure Mountain Podcast as we seek for the Dharma within.

John WaiteProfile Photo

John Waite

Born into a healthy middle class family of New Zealand parents in the UK. Sent to a private school even though I asked to be sent to the local school. I think a lot of the older teachers, and the country, were suffering from post-traumatic stress from WW2; they were certainly struggling with the decline of the British Empire and changing social values.
My father brought me up to be toughly independent; I really appreciate the gifts he gave me but perhaps a few corners of his philosophy didn’t quite stand up to modern scrutiny. One example was” if someone hits you punch back hard”. He taught me boxing well from a young age; however when a teacher slapped me he didn’t appreciate that I punched the teacher back. I did try to point out I was using his philosophy but debate wasn’t encouraged.
I mention this because it pretty much sets the basis for the rest of my life; a really strong drive to find a better, more meaningful way of living. After the teacher incident academic options were limited and I became interested in changing society, not very skilfully. I eventually worked in the off shore oil industry earning good money but there seemed little point to it all. I travelled overland to India surprised at finding civilised ideas existed even in remote places along the way that were poorly portrayed in the west. I was helped by people on a few occasions to my surprise and delight. I became very interested in Mahatma Gandhi and tried to live by those ideals for a few years; I found the ideals of political activity and spirituality being brought together resonated within. I had found myself in the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, no words were exchanged but somehow I knew something very profound had changed. It took a long time to really appreciate how beneficial that chance encounter was; later I was fortunate to participate in his tours to Australia several times, every moment with him was a blessing. When I found myself going through some problems in 1980 I decided it was time to sort out my interest in Buddhism properly so headed to Queensland for a fortnight’s retreat. I went prepared to challenge anything said until I either accepted or rejected dharma. I was surprised and delighted to meet a teacher who had clearly thought about any idea I had had much more clearly than I had managed, who actually delighted in debate about his beliefs and enjoyed this student who seemed to be forever questioning things. I became Buddhist, not a particularly good one, full of mistakes and sometimes questioning whether I should actually be involved in politics to improve society rather than spirituality. I tried to live as a monk for a while, then tried to set up a business with the idea of funding dharma; both didn’t work well because I didn’t do enough homework first. I started drinking alcohol again but one thing Lama Zopa had taught had caught hold deep within me; happiness comes from serving others. I put this to work enthusiastically helping others in many different areas as a volunteer: fire brigade, ambulance, trade union steward but none of these really made a lasting difference to the people I was trying to help; some ambulance patients were so regular you could almost set your watch by them. I had become actively involved in dharma again; living properly within the lay vows and studying. I became a dharma centre director for several years and had the good fortune to be involved in bringing many great teachers to Australia and helping set up umbrella organisations for Buddhism.
Why have I spent so much time volunteering in serving society through dharma? There are so many tactics we can choose from within dharma to continually improve ourselves and offer to others so they have the same opportunity. I have met many great teachers who are living examples of what the Buddha taught. These tried and proven practices offer us all a way to choose to live our lives more constructively, happily; if we can offer these opportunities to others, this is the most precious gift that can ever be offered. Putting these ideas into practise we can become gentler, happier, more useful, less polluting for those around us.