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


Amaravati Summer Camp
"Family Days" first started in 1985, with the intention of helping the family unit -- especially children -- to come closer to the teachings of the Buddha-Dhamma and the community of Sangha. At first they were of an experimental nature, but in response to the interest shown they have developed and are now a firmly established part of life at Amaravati.
Several summer camps, both weekend and longer, have been successfully organised for families and in addition "Rainbows", a children's Dhamma magazine with a page for parents, has been published regularly at Amaravati. This has been very well received both among families and in schools.
Unfortunately, owing to increased pressure from family commitments, Medhina, who has written this account of the 1987 Summer Camp, has had to resign as the co-ordinator for family activities. Brenda Popplewell has kindly undertaken to replace her in organising next year's family activities. For further information contact "Amaravati Family Events", Amaravati.
There was a minor disturbance in the cosmos last August, when about fifty children and their parents converged on Amaravati. Gradually congregating from Wednesday until the following Monday, beings of all ages arrived from different parts of country. They came from as far away as Devon and Yorkshire, and across from Belfast; they came from different Buddhist traditions -- Theravadin, Tibetan and Zen -- with different backgrounds and ways of life, including single parents and extended families, and with a variety of expectations: yet for six days these differences dissolved as they merged into the annual community gathering known as "the Family Camp".

The camp-site filled with tents occupied by families large and small. Those without access to a canvas home were made comfortable in the rooms and dormitories of the adjacent Retreat Centre --miraculously just big enough for the number of families in need.

"What did they do for six days with so many children?" you might ask.

"Keep busy and learn a lot" is the short answer; but better than that was the joy, the sharing and inspiration that seemed to blossom out of the many activities available to all age-groups.
All these activities were taking place in a benevolent, non-competitive environment, encouraging the children to incline towards kindness, co-operation and sharing.

From the beginning, children were engrossed in creating a play to illustrate the life of the Buddha. Everyone involved worked closely together to script, costume, rehearse and produce this grand project, which involved every child who wanted to take part.

One family came to the camp armed with the know-how and materials to make a full-sized Chinese Dragon -- the type that dances in the streets at Chinese New Year; some members became absorbed in its creation for three days. At the same time, those in the cookery group were baking special treats to offer to monks and nuns on pindabaht (alms-round).

Some children liked to join in the Morning and Evening Chanting, and in the guided meditation sessions. Art and craft workshops; crochet and embroidery on the lawn; wood-gathering expeditions; walks and play filled out the days. All these activities were taking place in a benevolent, non-competitive environment, encouraging the children to incline towards kindness, co-operation and sharing.
For many parents, the opportunities offered by the Camp provided an oasis in the desert of life in a modern materialistic society. There was the rare chance to meet with so many Dhamma-friends (practising within the form of family life); and variously-sized groups could be seen discussing anything from the workings of a motor-car, to the Meaning of Life and The Universe.

There were many opportunities for contact with the monastic community: Morning Puja in the Retreat Centre at 7.30 am; daily Dhamma reflections; meditation classes and discussions with Ajahn Sumedho or with monks and nuns; Evening Chanting with the main community in the Sala and afterwards, informal talk around the camp-fire.

Community living -- a novelty for most -- brought its own insights and joys. All shared in the practical nitty-gritty of cooking, cleaning and childcare. The monastic backdrop provided a constant reminder to use the ordinariness of these activities -- as much as any of the classes and events -- as an opportunity for cultivating the heart, so allowing the spirit of Buddha-Dhamma to transform the mundane into the wonderful.

By Sunday, dress-rehearsals for the play had reached a furious crescendo; later that evening the great golden Buddha-rupa in the Dhamma Hall witnessed a tear or two, when the children performed "The Earth is my Witness" -- in the artless way that only children can manage. Then followed the "Empowerment" of the Dragon -- magically brought to life when a monk ceremonially painted in the edges, and nine children climbed inside. It lurched determinedly out to the Stupa to the accompaniment of cacophonous percussion, all this designed to rout Mara and any of his lurking hordes. Even if Mara didn't get the message, the neighbours surely did!

After all the excitement of the Sunday, on the final day everyone went out on a ramble through the surrounding countryside. It was a marvellously grounding exercise in preparation for returning home; the picnic that day on Hudnall Common provided a memorable picture of Sangha and lay friends sitting together with nature and sharing a few moments Of their lives on this earth.

The culmination and one of the most treasured memories of the camp was the blessing ceremony conducted by Ajahn Sumedho and the monastic community. The children began the proceedings by offering carefully-prepared trays of flowers, incense, candles and colourful paintings to the monks and nuns. A special offering, expressing the gratitude of the families, was given to Ajahn Sumedho: a "Cat Cake" made by the children.

The ceremony consisted of auspicious chanting and the symbolic sprinkling of holy water on those participating -- giving the children the go-ahead to respond with squeals and excited laughter. A long thread - used to encircle the gathering -- was divided up, everyone taking a length to tie on someone else's wrist. This was to be worn for as long as possible, as a reminder of the wonderful spirit of communion between those present.

The ceremony came to a reluctant end with Ajahn Sumedho addressing the children: "I think you've been blessed enough now, don't you?"

"NO-O-Ooooooooo!" came the enthusiastic response.

The Ajahn smiled. . . The camp had been a great success.