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


Kathina 1987
With three Kathina Ceremonies being held within our monasteries it is pretty clear that people are finding more in this ancient custom than supplying a monk with some cloth. Here are a couple of viewpoints from Sister Candasiri and Upasika Susilo.
There is something impersonal, immensely powerful and miraculous about the unfolding of Dhamma as it touches the hearts of human beings. Year by year, we can observe this coming about through the vehicle of Sangha, which provides a container and channel for our human energies. By contrast, a few days before the Amaravati Kathina, we witnessed the untamed energy of nature, manifesting in the strongest gale in recorded history. Bringing much of the country to a standstill, it reminded us of the precariousness of our human existence.

The Kathina season is a time of reunion. During the week prior to the ceremony, bhikkhus who had spent the Rains in other monasteries began to arrive at Amaravati: bowing to pay respects, and exchanging greetings and gentle enquiries as to each other's welfare. The days were spent in quiet, purposeful activities -- tidying up, raking up leaves and twigs blown down in the storm. Lay friends began to arrive and on the evening before Kathina, the kitchen took on a particularly festive air. People gathered and began the serious business of preparing the meal which two or three hundred people were to share the following day. Bright faces an unmistakable sense of joy pervaded the monastery.

On the morning of the ceremony, members of the monastic community and their guests rose ear1y, and met as usual for morning chanting. Then at gruel time, we thought about what needed to be done in preparation for the events of the day. There were important messages about who should sit where, and when it was all going to happen: "Maybe someone should ring a bell!". . .
Perhaps the best gift we can give our dear ones is to wish that their hearts be peaceful.

The Dhamma Hall was prepared as the dining place for the monks and nuns: neat rows of mats, a water jug and spitoon to one side. The big bell sounded, members of the Sangha assembled, (Although the community had swelled considerably at this time, everybody knew exactly where to sit.) The lay people came in -- many of them: "Please come and sit well forward. Don't be shy!" They bowed, the formal request was made, and each one solemnly avowed the Eight Precepts for the day -- a very special moment. Paritta chanting followed; blessings for all present, and also for absent friends and relatives. Perhaps the best gift we can give our dear ones is to wish that their hearts be peaceful . . . Then a long line of robed figures with bared heads and feet, the customary signs of humility, filed silently past heavily laden trestle tables to receive alms food -- from old people, young people, big people, little people, Asians and Westerners. It was far more than we could eat -- enough to sustain the body for many days, rather than just one. More important than having exactly the right amount was being available to receive such offerings freeing given, and the more one held back from saying: "Just a little, please", the more glad and serene one felt. Sometimes, with our Western conditioning efficient and economical to the last -- it takes us a little while to learn the ways of the heart.

The Kathina at Amaravati was billed as an "All Supporters' Kathina". Upasaka Susilo, with others Of the Bedford Group, had undertaken to offer the Kathina Cloth and to help in co-ordinating the offering of general requisites to the community. If, at any stage he had felt uncertain as to what it would involve, he soon found that there was nothing to worry about: the Sri Lankan, Thai, Cambodian, Laotian and Vietnamese communities were all - as one friend put it -- "right behind him". This was touchingly evident as the offering was made amidst a sea of clearly delighted faces gathered in the Sala -- both from far corners of the globe and from just down the road. People shared in the gladness of giving, in doing something good together. There was no prize, no reward or personal recognition, but simply the natural arising of happiness in a pure heart.
In his short address, Ajahn Sumedho encouraged us all to make good use of our situation and the opportunities which life presents us with, and stressed that the teaching is something that we can all make use of; it doesn't make any difference who we are, or where we come from -- all of us can meet in Dhamma.

The Chithurst Kathina, a week later required a great deal more preparation. The "mini-hurricane" had dealt a much more severe blow in Sussex than in Hertfordshire, so the week preceding the Kathina was taken up with preparations of a more strenuous nature. Extra help was drafted in, and from dawn until dusk the air was filled with the rasping whine of chain saws and the scent of wood smoke. The sun shone, and a couple of days before the ceremony the marquee was brought out and Ajahn Tiradhammo's voice could be heard: ". . . a little more to the left, and . . . pull . . . hold it", Fifteen pairs of hands pulled and held it, while others hammered in pegs and tied down the guy ropes . . . it was up! Then the interior design team moved in, and with coloured lanterns, carpets, banks of flowers, and streamers, set the scene for the Kathina Ceremony.

Sunday morning saw a triple circumambulation of the marquee by friends bearing gifts. The Kathina cloth was held aloft, and a large tape recorder provided a background of Cambodian folk music. Behind the scenes, a rather tired-looking representative from the Electricity Board was still struggling with damaged cable at the top of a pole, while his companions below tried to sustain a measure of equanimity as cheerful passers-by enquired kindly as to their progress. (The final connection was made in the afternoon, just in time for the bhikkhus to plug in the machine and begin sewing the robe.)

With Mr Tan Nam as MC, no one was in any doubt as to how to proceed, he led the requests for the Precepts and the Paritta chanting and later on, directed his friends Mr and Mrs Moeng Phok in the offering of the Kathina Cloth to the Bhikkhu Sangha. This time Ajahn Sumedho expressed his intention to remain in Britain for the whole of 1988, and to devote more time to training the monks and nuns. He said that he felt a bit like the "Johnny Appleseed" of Buddhism; for ten years he has been scattering seeds far and wide, but now it is time to tend the young trees which have taken root. Young trees, given suitable conditions grow to maturity and bear fruit -- and that means more seeds, many more!

The day ended, our friends returned to their homes, the many gifts which had been offered were stored away and at nine o'clock in the evening, the freshly-sewn Kathina robe was presented to Ajahn Anando at a formal meeting of the Bhikkhu Sangha

An archaic custom? A dusty old tradition? They say that the proof of the pudding is in the eating . . . It tasted all right to me!

Susilo (Tony Cook) offered the Kathina cloth at Amaravati this year, assisted by Thai, Laotian, Cambodian and Sri Lankan friends. When he stopped in at Amaravati the other week, we asked him for a few comments.

I didn't actually see the Kathina Ceremony last year, but it seemed like a nice idea, so 1 went up and asked Tan Ajahn and offered. He said that he wanted to make it an international event, which was fine. There was a lot of moral support. I talked about it with the Bedfordshire Buddhist Group, and put a letter out in order to let people know what was happening. Mudita let the Thais know; Ruki let the Sri Lankans know; Tan Nam let the Cambodians know and Paw Puoy let the Laotians know. The jungle telegraph seemed to swing into operation.

It seemed like a nice thing to do, I didn't think about why. When I'd volunteered, I'd lumbered myself and that was it; I just did it. It was a very good teaching -- I learned a lot about suffering in the months beforehand! "What's going to happen? What have I got to do?" I wondered what I'd let myself in for. The idea of just letting something happen I found very difficult. This was something else I had to learn -- and it worked

Originally we were going to have a meeting about six months beforehand to see what needed doing, but in fact everything just seemed to come together in the last three weeks. Money came in from individuals and groups. I met a lot of nice people and I had a lot of encouragement from people, which was very valuable. Someone said to me quite early on in the planning stages: "Get the cloth and let everybody know -- that's all you've got to do, it will happen!" And it did. It seemed alien to our Western view where you have to plan things down to the last detail- just to actually let something happen is something else. I'll apply that to other aspects of my life as well, I think. . . .

The offering of the Kathina cloth has already been booked for the next two years at Amaravati and for 1988 at Chithurst. However, as the Comments above make clear, thats just a part of it, and there are still plenty of opportunities to participate.