|Forest Sangha Newsletter||January 1988|
Amaravati Summer CampThere 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".
"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.
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!