Forest Sangha Newsletter January 1988

Wood Hammered at Chithurst; Ajahn Anando
Serpentine, Western Australia; Chris Banks
Looking for the Sweet One; Ajahn Jagaro
Wish You Were Here; Venerable Sumano
Kathina 1987; Sister Candasiri & Upasika Susilo
Off the Beaten Track; Venerable Kovido
New-Born; Sister Viveka
Amaravati Summer Camp; Medhina
The Way the Wind Blows; Ajahn Sucitto


Off the Beaten Track

Venerable Kovido reports on happenings at Devon Vihara

Well, there has been quite a lot happening at Devon Vihara in the last couple of months. Despite the fact that Odle Cottage is in the middle of nowhere, at the end of a potholed road, it is quite a busy place.

So it was rather nice at the beginning of September to have the chance to slow down and shut up for a period of formal retreat. The fact that on 10 of the 12 days various lay-people gave up their time to come and offer us beautifully prepared food was a source of inspiration and gratitude for us all. Also helpful was Ajahn Kittisaro's guidance during the retreat. I would find it difficult to recall some of the "profound" insights that arose but it certainly shifted my attitude towards meditation and retreats.

After that we moved on to Supanno and Pasadaka's wedding blessing. It was quite amazing how a few pieces of material, wood and brick were able to transform that rather nondescript patch of lawn into a suitable venue for such an occasion. The other piece of magic was the marquee which was somehow able to expand the space to accommodate 60 people, 4 trestle tables and 2 shrines, with room to spare. Then after the people went away, the shrines were dismantled, the "magic tent" broken down. and the little patch of grass and Ajahn's Kuti reappeared.
... there was a willingness and openness to explore each other's traditions.

A week later 65 people came to share a meal and offer their skills on the Skills Offering day. The Vihara and grounds became a hive of activity as curtains were sewn and put up. the garden, trimmed and manicured, stones dug up and moved down the road. It was far more that we could, do in a month and done in such a harmonious and joyful way!

During September Ajahn Kittisaro started a new course of treatment -- and as a result during October was able to visit six different spiritual centres. He went to a Hindu ashram in Wales; to the Life Foundation in Birmingham, to Harnham Vihara for their first Kathina, to Hillfield Friary for an interfaith workshop, to Amaravati for the Kathina and a Theras' meeting, and to the Forest Hermitage for a weekend retreat of Buddhist Prison Chaplains.

The impression of these visits was perhaps encapsulated in a meeting at Odle Cottage with Father John, a Russian Orthodox Priest, arranged by our good friend Mrs Lee. Although the outward forms seemed so different -- a married Orthodox priest and a celibate Buddhist monk -- and the language and teachings seemingly contradictory, there was a willingness and openness to explore each other's traditions. As the discussion progressed and they started to talk about the experiences and qualities needed for the religious life, then the disparities fell away and there was a feeling of standing on the same ground.
During Ajahn Kittisaro's extensive travel and teaching engagements monastic life at Devon Vihara continued under Venerable Attapemo's skilful guidance. The routine of chanting, meditation, alms-round and work, which to those at the Vihara can become so mundane, is also the life force at the centre of the Vihara from which all these other things can emerge. In terms of work -- a few yards were added to "the road", the outside bathroom was smartened up, the well repointed, and the carpark levelled and drained -- amongst other things.

Various supporters invited the community for dana at their houses and others came to offer dana at the Vihara. These were opportunities to get to know some of the good people who make our monastic life possible.

Other such opportunities have been the fortnightly discussion group which continues with some lively exchanges of ideas and experiences which we have found helpful -- or confusing -- in our daily lives. This gave us a chance to see that often what we think is "The Way" or "Right View" is in fact one of many viewpoints, each of which can equally be a skilful means or a source of suffering, depending on the way it is used.

So that is just about it -- or almost. Yesterday, a baby blessing of Terry and Sue's daughter Fern; today a Trust meeting and another Skills Support day. Tomorrow, the Discussion Group, and the builder, comes to extend the Shrine Room.

Sometimes people say to us "Aren't you running away from the Real World?" Far from it. I don't think I have ever met so many people in my life and the curious fact is that they are all so nice. But even so, I am becoming more and more grateful for this conventional structure, with its formal meetings and meditation periods. I can see how easy it is to get overwhelmed by all the incredible important things that need to be done -- and how necessary it is at the end of the day to put aside our separate affairs and convene for the evening meeting, to chant, to bow, to sit together and for a while, in Ajahn Kittisaro's words "to stop rearranging the furniture and let the world end".

Extract from an interview with Ajahn Kittisaro from the booklet Buddhist Advice. copies of this booklet are available at the Devon Vihara.

My teacher [Ajahn Chah] said: "Regardless of time and place the whole practice of Dhamma (truth) comes to completion at the place where there is no thing, nothing. It is the place of surrender, of emptiness, of laying down the burden". We find this very useful for contemplation, because many times we get very overwhelmed by the notion of time, the idea that we are getting somewhere, that we're becoming more and more pure, more holy, so that then we can go to Heaven, or then we can go to Nibbana, or then we can be happy. One of the fundamental principles Of the Buddhist teaching is that the Truth is always present (Akaliko Dhamma).

It's not bound in time. By putting Truth off into the future, you never get there. That's what we call endless rebirth in Buddhism, When you wake up to the present, there will still be that thought in the mind. "I want to get something then", but you're aware of that thought for what it is. You see it as a thought about time arising and passing; and being at peace with the thought as thought, the heart knows how things are. It's laying down the burden of delusion, of imagining, and bringing us back to the present. Time, the notion of tomorrow, yesterday, is something we create with our thought, but tomorrow and yesterday arise and pass away in this present moment now. The essence of religion, "religio", means to re-link, to point to that which brings you back to the source of things, to completion, to God, to the oneness, to the "coolness" (Nibbana).

In schools there is a tendency to approach Buddhism through the Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. Are there any pre-requisites for the "normal" Buddhist, rather than a monastic tradition, that should be approached prior to looking at that?

You always start with generosity. When a being imagines itself to be separate, there's this habit to hold -- and to imagine by holding we're going to be happy. The whole nature of life is not to stand still; the whole nature of life is to breathe in and out, the heart beats, the blood flows, food comes in and out, the water element coming in and out. The whole essence of life is movement; and yet a mind that doesn't understand that still imagines that by maintaining and keeping it's going to be more secure, more happy. That's a fundamental mistake. The first thing the Buddha teaches, especially to children, is a very profound thing, to learn to share, to offer. It is beautiful, in Thailand, to think that children are just brought up that way. They get something and immediately they want to offer it around. It's just instinctive with them. It's very humbling. We see a lot of selfishness, of grasping in our hearts; and this is where it helps to realise "It's not mine". So much of our monastic life revolves around offering, sharing, "how can I be of help to others?", listening, offering of time, and things like that.