Forest Sangha Newsletter October 1988

Ajahn Chah's Birthday; Viradhammo Bhikkhu
Question Time; with Ajahn Sumedho
Co-operation & a Different "Golden Rule"; Santacitto Bhikkhu
To Arrive Where You Are; Conversation with Tudong Monks
Keeping it Simple; Ayya Candasiri
Ancient Meadows; Dr. Barry Durrant & Ayya Viveka
Family Camp; Ayya Thanissara, Upasika Medhina, & Children
State of America; Sucitto Bhikkhu


Arrive Where You Are: on Tudong
The practice of tudong, walking through open country on an extended pilgrimage, has long been a treasured aspect of the life of the forest bhikkhu: it presents many opportunities to live in insecurity and be confronted by difficult situations.

In this country bhikkhus and siladharas have had opportunities to undertake this practice and found it a helpful way of deepening their understanding of the holy life. This year there were three tudongs: Ajahn Anando led fifteen bhikkhus and anagarikas from Chithurst and Amaravati along the South Downs Way: Ajahn Pabhakaro trekked in the Scottish Highlands with a bhikkhu and two laymen: and Ajahn Kittisaro and the rest of the Devon Sangha whose report will be in the next Newsletter made the pilgrimage from Devon to Chithurst.

The walks differed in style, in accordance with cicumstance, but the fundamentals were the same - backpacks, tents, blisters and as the following comments illustrate, insights into the meaning of the homeless life.

"The aim of the walk is not to get somewhere, but to be where you are."
Ajahn Anando

Ajahn Anando: When we began to plan the walk it was with a view of encouraging and inviting the lay people. So we first found places that would be suitable for stopping for the weekend, places which would be easily accessible and also having a pleasant ambience. From previous walks in Northumberland we found that it was a very inspiring way of meeting the lay people, who frequently went to a great deal of trouble to organise the food. I mean on this walk they were organising food for as many as fifteen people. (We wanted to see if it would be possible to go in such a large group).

On the weekends, or if time and place permitted, we would organise some kind of walk around the area- some beautiful place perhaps to go to. While walking we would have opportunities to get to know people who may have been intimidated by the perceived formalities that exist in the monastery. Many people commented how pleasant it was, and the fact that people came day after day indicated that they were enjoying it also.

The second week of the walk was a bit different than the first in the number of people that came to join us, because for the second week we were much closer to Brighton and the larger towns, and by that time the news media had found out about us. Newspaper articles had been published; the radio had broadcast a story about us and just as we got to Brighton the TV people found us.

"The reporting was quite sympathetic in all cases, and more often than not correct -which is by no means always the case. That had quite beneficial effects an the last few days. One family read an article in the newspaper, The Independent, and was waiting for us. The South Downs Way runs right through their farm, and they came up to us and said: 'We've been waiting for you all day. Please come in.' And it ended up that the farmhouse had once been a monks' resthouse and so they were delighted to have the monks in the house. They were going to offer us dinner, and were rather disappointed that we could only have black tea (it was a dairy farm). They chatted with us, they were incredibly hospitable - showed all fifteen of us through the house, took photographs, invited us back. The final thing which happened because of the news coverage was that a man opened up his house to us at Burling Gap for our last meal of the walk. This turned out to be a rather wonderful occasion, and was certainly an unforgettable occasion for him. It was his birthday-I think there was a total of 55 people there! They'd come from Southampton, from Chithurst, Ajahn Sumedho from Amaravati - many more people than the man expected."

"The support, the generosity was so touching that it was quite humbling, and brought up as a response a reflection, a renewed commitment, to live this life as well as possible -which I think is a side of mendicancy that few people understand. One of our reflections is to be worthy of alms, and to be worthy -the way we understand that is not to indulge in any ill-will or greed or selfishness. So when it tests you, you have lots of reflection throughout the day -it's very a good experience."

Ajahn Pabhakaro: "It's really rugged country - you've got to have your wits about you out there. We were in a storm one day. We came down, and I was so weak I couldn't even open the paraffin bottle. It was about a quarter past twelve when we came down this glen, just completely shattered from the storm. It was only about two miles but it was through bog and heather in raging, driving rain and wind.

"We planned originally to go from East to West to Iona, but then Iona turned out to be a bit much in the summer, so we packed that in as an idea, and just wove around to where the people were coming - like Jodi's cottage up by Loch Tag, and Venerable Sobhano's mother, and some other friends. If there wasn't anybody to look after us, then Ross who was carrying dried dehydrated foods would just cook up whatever.

"Ross had a terrible time with his ankle - an old skiing injury - and so towards the end he had to drop out! So it worked out that on the last stage just Thanasila and I went on our own down the Highland Way. The Highland Way goes from North of Glasgow all the way up to Fort William, so people from Glasgow were able to come out and provide food. It's really quite challenging, but there's all sorts of people that walk it in the summer. When we got onto it we just came across and walked along the East side of Loch Lomond, and as soon as we set foot on that we were seeing people every hour, we were running into people, and people knew what we were. One guy said: 'Oh, I never thought I'd see monks out with all the high tech gear,' and we met a chap and he said: 'Wow, it's was really lovely, people welcoming us to Scotland. Incredible country -I mean you can walk two or three days and not see anybody, there's just so much area up there to walk in, Scotland is so beautiful, even though we were in really pretty miserable conditions.

"It was so bad we had to come somewhere every other day to dry out: it would have been suicidal to go on in those conditions. When you're out there and you're in the thick of this stuff, and the midges are at you -I had this real insight into the whole Tudonga wandering nomadic tradition. It makes life Miserable enough that you don't think it is worth staying around! The point comes home - that this is something that it is worth working to get out of! And so I'm really keen for us all to go tudong, because we're creatures of habit and tend to get into secure situations.

"And a tent. A tent is the most lovely thing that's going. It's so lovely just to have a roof over your head for the night -a secure sort of little place out in the middle of nowhere. Venerable Thanasilo and I had a mountain tent that you could take up Everest. And you get that thing pitched - it's got about 10 guys on it and about 24 stakes to put in. Once you get the thing down, It's not going anywhere. We could actually squeeze four of us inside, we had puja in there-we did the itipi so and the karaniya metta in the morning and evening. I did 'mettancasabbalokasmim' as a mantra and the Refuges when it was really bad rain -it was a sort of focus. It is just so lovely to be out with the basics; life is so simple."