Ajahn Tiradhammo has been the senior incumbent at Harnham Vihara for twoand a half years. At the Harnham Wesak on May 24th, he will be handing overthe incumbency, to Ajahn Pabhakaro and with it, the project to build a DhammaHall and more accommodation for Sangha and visitors at the Vihara. He offersthese reflections.
As a residence for a small Sangha and focus for a small Buddhist community since 1980, Harnham has been very successful. However, life does not stand still. Over the years Harnham has begun to change, due to the increasing interest in meditation and Buddhism. With the completion of the extensive renovation work on the cottage, more energy was put into teaching and supporting groups in the North -- from Yorkshire to Scotland and Northern Ireland. From the initial Newcastle group and subsequent groups in Doncaster and Edinburgh, bhikhhus from Harnham have begun to teach at newly formed groups in Leeds, Glasgow, Durham, Middlesbrough, Belfast and temporarily, in Hull and Sheffield. This changing perspective has added a new dimension to Harnham, and called for some serious consideration of the longterm direction of the community.
In terms of numbers, the resident community has grown from two to six, and the number of support groups from one to nine; on major festival days the number of visitors has grown from a few dozen to hundreds. After several years of practice, the needs of the Buddhist community, have also expanded. Now there are monthly weekend retreats, more public gatherings such as wedding blessings and festivals, and an increasing number of visitors and guests. There is also the possibility of having nuns reside on a more permanent basis.
With the maturing of the Buddhist community, we have found that many people want to help, out of a sense of gratitude and appreciation. This is particularly relevant in the organising and support of vihara-activities. 1n the setting up of a vihara we have found that we need to explore ways of facilitating communication and co-operation between monastics and laity. Put simply, the monastics have the experience, to know what is needed to nourish the form of Sangha, while the laity have the knowledge and skill to make that into a tangible reality.
Our endeavours so far have culminated in the Sanghamitta Project to purchase and renovate further properties on Harnham Hill. A generous initial donation has given the impetus to make the project feasible. Besides providing more accommodation for Sangha, guests and retreatants, it is a focus for much co- operation, generosity and selfless service. The size of the project implies that few of the initial supporters will see its completion, but it is a joyful act of service to give towards something which will be of much benefit, to many people, for a long time.
This has been a major source of Dhamma practice for many of us. It hasn't been easy, but it has been valuable to explore what aspects of Buddhism are workable and appropriate,and to learn how to apply them. In a way it is like learning how to separate the wheat from the chaff -- the heart of Buddhism from the externals -- give it new soil to germinate, and watch it grow. In learning to co-operate and communicate on a much larger and more extensive scale, the extended Harnham community is becoming a focus for much, generous and noble energy, and a school for learning the practicality of spiritual fellowship. The main issue then, is not actually, building the vihara, but building people. With patience and care, people can learn how to apply spiritual principles in their lives, not only for their own benefit but also for the benefit of society. This will take time and energy, but it may well be the most valuable investment of time and energy that we can ever make for the peace and happiness of the many.