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


Wish You Were Here

Everybody has their own notion of the ideal place and the ideal practice. Here is Venerable Sumano's.

This Phansa I've found the best way-place in the whole world. It is a Wat deep in the back country of Thailand... On one side we are walled in by a series of rugged, steep foothills; on another side by a wide and deep lake. As the sun rises behind the sala, we can just catch a glimpse of the lone village on the other side. The few fishermen never venture near this side for fear of the ghosts who are known to swamp boats and also haunt the forest on the back side of the Wat.
(Phansa: Rains Retreat, or Vassa in Thai.)

This peculiar entanglement of vegetation appears never to have been traversed. Each of the huge trees has grown in a rather deformed manner. Probably because of the challenge and conflict for space in this almost prehistoric environment, some have gone lop-sided, others concave; and all have knotty "faces" which appear animated on the days fog comes in off the lake. The extent of the forest can only be estimated by some clues and the "feel" of it: I guess it to be 15-20 miles. The sounds of tigers in the night carry over long distances and indicate sufficient territory for more than just a few of them.
... many of the samanas are seen only occasionally leaving their shelters -- when lack of nutrition requires they go to the village for alms.

On one side of the lake is a desert about 2 km across at its narrowest point. At dawn we cross that expanse to reach the small village for alms. Here we receive a few spoonfuls of rice and some wild vegetables, then the food is taken back to the Wat by the village boys, they alternate in order to gain the merit of carrying several bowls back for the monks.

There has been rain every day about 20 minutes of hard rain in the early morning. The morning, consequently, opens fresh and clear. Of the insects, it is only the butterflies who call our attention. There are 50 many of them that we need to be careful not to step on any as we walk on our meditation paths. The temperature is a stable 76 degrees F in the day and 72 degrees at night.
Of course, there is a powerful strain of malaria (ultra-malaria I call it). At this juncture there are between 12-14 of us; we began the retreat with 20. The exact number cannot be determined as many of the samanas are seen only occasionally leaving their shelters -- when lack of nutrition requires they go to the village for alms. The Abbot comes out only fortnightly to cross the desert, bathe, and preside over the recitation of the rules of conduct. Somehow he has managed to maintain a constant weight of 35 kilos.

Aside from the rare malaria mosquito which is hardly ever seen, the other species of mosquitos are content just to bite each other -- for the sport of it, I suppose.

For the few who choose to keep the Phansa schedule, the morning bell goes at 1.15 am for chanting and sitting. The 3-4 monks living under their umbrellas adjacent to the Sala maintain the schedule and leave after the 30 minutes required to haul water, dust and sweep. Everything is completed by 5.20, a few moments before the first light.

The meal of the day and the washing up of the bowls is a 15 minute process; after which those who ate in the sala sit two-and-a-half hours together before resuming the normal sitting and walking schedule. The last sitting is finished at 11 pm.

There is no one to ask about posting a letter. It never came up and no one has spoken for the past six weeks or longer. However, tomorrow marks the mid-point of -the retreat and four of the six families from the village will enter the Wat for their only opportunity of offering a meal during the retreat season. While the two remaining families watch over the bit of garden and few coconut trees which support their lives, the others will offer handwoven mats, and perhaps a box of soap powder to replace the one that ran out last month. Bar soap and toothpaste seem adequate enough. So, I will leave this for them at the staircase to the sala, possibly it will pass through many hands on its way to Bangkok for posting and then onward.