Forest Sangha Newsletter January 1999
THIS ISSUE Cover:
Articles:
Question Time; Tuhn Ajahn Sumedho
Arrive at Where You Are; Kittisaro Bhikkhu
Desire to end Desire; Tuhn Ajahn Maha Boowa
Filling in the Dots; Sister Abahassara
Zeal and New Land; Subbato Bhikkhu
Kwan Yin & the Noble Elephant; Sucitto Bhikkhu
Thoughts From a Forest; Vipassi Bhikkhu
A First View of Buddhism; Arnold Handley
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Zeal and New Land
An interview with Venerable Subbato, a New Zealander by birth who spent about one year (1985-86) offering his services during the early stages of the development of the New Zealand Monastery, "Bodhinyanarama".
 :_:   PS letter from Ajahn Viradhammo

Question:
What kind of interest and support is there for "Bodhinyanarama"?

Answer:
There is certainly interest and very good, willing support. The committee that invited the monks here is very keen to see that the monastery gets off to a good start, and are doing everything they can to establish it in 8' way that the Sangha feels will be beneficial. The pace of life in New Zealand is noticeably slower. and coming from England I could see that people have more time available to spend at the monastery; they seem to have more time to come in the evenings after work and at the weekends. Even right at the beginning of Bodhinyanarama when there was no monastery as such -just a couple of huts in the forest-peole would come regularly to meditate with us. They would also come to help with the work when the monastery was being built, and would regularly take part in "Working bee" weekends. The laity have put a lot of effort into raising funds - frequently holding charity dinners and food fairs - and a lot of support has been given in donations, enabling the expenses for land and property to be paid without the need for loans. Everyday, different devoted supporters would bring cooked alms-food for the monks -the anagarikas rarely have to cook.

Question:
Could you say a little about what the situation was like when the monks first arrived in New Zealand?

Answer:
When the monks first arrived they understood it would not be long before they would settle into the new premises, but they found the lag people were having a few problems in getting things moving. Although the Association had already purchased a beautiful fifty-acre property near the capital city, Wellington, there were still some delays with the architect's office. The property is in a lovely situation at the top of a valley bordering on a large range of bush-clad hills called the Rimutakas. Theres no flat land, it's just all either up or down. The first task was to clear some tracks s0 that we could move around on the property, because there was nothing there, just really thick bush, and the only way you could move around was by crawling on all fours along the wild pig tracks.

 
It wasn't long befor people warmed to the presence of the monastery.

 
Question:
When the accommodation was eventually built, what did it consist of?

Answer:
The initial idea, when the Buddhist Association discussed it with Ajahn Sumedho and made their invitation, was to provide accommodation for two monks, and a guest house and meditation hall. But even when I was there, there were already three monks and one anagarika. It was quite obvious that the monastery was not just going to stay as a small vihara. There was a lot of interest, wherever we went in the country; people would ask about coming to. stay, and a few enquired about the possibility of ordination. Because in New Zealand you're such a long way from England or Thailand or anywhere else in the world, and to travel there from New Zealand is quite expensive.

By early '86, the plans for building an accommodation block had all gone through and contractors had been employed, so the accommodation block went ahead as the first staye of the monastery g development. While that was being built, the monks and anagarikas started building a few huts, kutis, further up in the forest -which wasn't part of the initial plan, of course. That meant the accommodation block could be used as a temporary shrine room.

Question:
What about the relationship with the locals immediately around the monastery - was there any difficulty in the beginning?

Answer: There was never really any problem. When the locals first heard about us - I think when the association initially bought the land - there was a remarkable article published by a fundamentalist Christian Group. But there was an immediate rapport with neighbours once the monks moved into the valley and began walking around and talking to the local people. As it's a warmer climate, people are outside more, so you walk down the road and you see your neighbours and talk to them - it's a much more out-and-about sort of place. It wasn't long befor people warmed to the presence of the monastery there.

Question:
What do you feel were the main difficulties faced by monks during the initial stages?

Answer:
Well the initial stay in which I was involved was really very demanding physically; having to carry bags of gravel, and put a lot of energy into the mundane side of things. It is quite hard when you are so involved with that to then stop, and relate with lag people and give teachings. We were actually criticised for working too hard on one occasion. It was one of those days when everything goes wrong; we had to move about 800 concrete blocks from the bottom of the drive up to the top on that one day, because the builder needed them by the next day. We organised a "working bee", but it was pouring with rain, so only about three or four people turned up,and we ended up working until some ridiculous hour carrying all these concrete blocks. A local truck driver came to help but after ferrying the first load of blocks, his truck went off the drive. We had stacked the blocks the wrong way and about one third of them were damaged. Then to top it all, we found out later that we were supposed to be at a Cambodian ceremony; we'd forgotten all about it. It was a complete disaster.

It's a very high-energy situation when you're moving tons of gravel up the hill and hauling logs down -the Sangha and those living with us were putting everything into it. That could be a bit overwhelming for outsiders who had come to share in the tranquillity and peace of the monastery, and instead we were tiring sacks of gravel at them faster than they could answer back. There were times when we felt people were perhaps a little intimidated by the situation. It was lovely to see, as things became established -and it was no longer just a building site - to see it begin to function again in a more traditional way as a sanctuary, a place for people to come, to be quiet.

Question:
Did you manage to have a traditional Vassa rains retreat during that year?

Answer:
Well, yes -it rained for three months, that was pretty traditional. We had to decide whether we were going to spend the Vassa in the town flat. As it was beside a very busy main road, we were very keen to' get into the forest, but that meant that all of us had to accept that we were going to live in one 8'x12' hut - because that's all we had.

We'd all get up at the same time in the morning, and do the same yoga, and then sit together. We kept a very good routine just to keep us going, because as you can imagine, living so closely and then working all day together, we couldn't get away from each other. .It was quite a difficult time, actually being winter in New Zealand. Ajahn Viradhammo was away in Canada that Vassa. leaving the three of us: myself, Ven Thanavaro and anagarika Gary. We dug holes in the ground for toilets and collected rainwater for our supply of water. But we did have a microwave oven, which Was really a lifesaver. We had to decide whether we were going to use the microwave oven or not, some of the Sangha felt they didn't mind eating cold food, but I thought on top of everything else - that was going a bit too far, and if we had to have a 100-metre extension cord with a microwave on the end of it, that was perfectly all right by me!

Question:
Could you say something about the Ohara in Auckland?

Answer:
The monastery has really been supported by the New Zealand Buddhist Association - a combination of the Wellington and Auckland Association.

Auckland is about 400 miles away from Wellington, and it's also the largest centre of population in the country. If you picture New Zealand as a country about the size of the British Isles, Wellington is in the middle and Auckland is near the top. It was difficult to decide where to put the monastery. As it worked out, they decided Wellington was the most central and so they went ahead there. However, the people in Auckland are very much involved, and I wouldn't be surprised if sooner or later they invite the Sangha to have a forest monastery near Auckland - mainly because it is such a large centre of population. A lot of Sri Lankan, Thai, Burmese and Western people are interested there. They have large gatherings for the Wesak and Kathina celebrations; hundreds of people literally, 200 or 300 people coming. Right from the beginning the monks would travel monthly by aeroplane up to Auckland to teach and meet with their supporters there. More recently the monks have been travelling all over the country, visiting a lot of small groups and holding retreats ....
Here in England now we almost feel it's part of the tradition, the Sangha here is very strong. But there they are such a long way away, just a handful of people. Even so, I'm sure the Sangha will flourish in New Zealand because although there are only a few people involved as get, the support there is really tremendous and the Sangha is very well taken care of. People really value the presence of the monks, and would also like to have nuns there one day.

... One of the most joyous occasions I remember there was after that quite difficult time when Ajahn Viradhammo was away in Canada with his family. After working very hard, at the end of the winter the Ajahn came back, the builders finished off the accommodation block and we were able to move in and stop for a month of formal retreat.

Ajahn Sumedho and Tuhn Chao Khun Pannananda had promised to come for a visit in early '87. By January the carpets and curtains were offered for the shrine room and it had been decorated, so we had all the necessary accommodation and amenities. Then quite unexpectedly they came at the same time. Ajahn Sumedho with Ajahn Anando and Ven Bodhinando, and Tuhn Chao Khun was accompanied by Ajahn Pasanno of Wat Pah Nanachat. With eight bhikkhus and one anagarika it was a big Sangha in our terms, but we were able to accommodate everyone on what had until recently just been a bush-clad hillside. We had a formal opening ceremony for Bodhinyanarama and many people came to the monastery at this happytime. It was a really wonderful feeling and one had the sense that good things had begun to take root in this remote corner of the world.

Since this interview a few changes have taken place, most notably the acquisition of an adjacent plot of level land.
  A recent letter from Ajahn Viradhammo:

With only Tong to attend to anagarika duties it gets a bit difficult at times. Last week Tong had to meet Ven Thanavaro at the airport. It was a morning flight, so he also had to prepare the meal. Before driving to the airport he had all the food in pots ready to be cooked. All the pots were connected by electrical leads to one timer switch. As Tong was greeted by Ven Thanavaro coming off the plane the kitchen at Bodhinyanarama came alive, and by the time of Tony's return the meal was ready. Clever chap our Tong, but at times spread a bit thin!

It is an inspiring time at Bodhinyanarama. The Vassa has begun and we've created space for a longish retreat. We've been using Tuhn Ajahn's tapes from the January retreat, and his guidance is much appreciated. In such a small sangha, guidance in right-view from an Outside source - especially Tuhn Ajahn - is very helpful. As long as the winter retreats continue in the UK I would like to follow suit during the Vassa here in New Zealand.

We have also taken possession of a neighbouring property which opens up wonderful possibilities for this monastery. Hugh Tennent, our bodhisattva architect, has been here for the last four days creating ideas for the development of Bodhinyanarama. We have been crawling through the bush looking at potential sites for sala, kutis, stupa, paths and meditation groves. In October we shall submit a comprehensive plan (20 years down the road) to the town planners. This is a big step for us because at present we are classified as a domestic residence which happens to have bhikkhus at home. We wish to be classified as a monastery and therefore have the freedom to develop according to our forest tradition. As it stands, we are not quite anything, and the usual doubts about how much can or cannot be done keep arising. By Christmas our position should be more clear.

A third bhikkhu, Ven Jotipanyo, has joined us for the Vassa, which makes a total of five people for these Vassa months. He is a most welcome addition and has kindly consented to give the vinaya readings each morning. He did this at Wat Pah Nanachat two years ago and has researched the work quite thoroughly.

Although we have not been in Stokes Valley for very long, it is becoming apparent to more and more people that our tradition has a direction and a stability that are not dependent on the fashions and trends of ordinary society. Here in New Zealand one is forever hearing of redundancies, plant closures, unemployment and people shifting g to Australia. In Sydney they even joke that New Zealand is a welfare state of Australia. As well as economic uncertainty, there is also a lot of noise about racial issues involving Maoris, Pacific Islanders and Pakeha (New Zealanders of European descent). The Maoris are making many land claims based on the Waitangi Treaty and are having significant successes in the courts. Finally, there is the usual dose of doom and gloom on the box and in the newspapers.

Compared to the problems of Asia, of course, New Zealand has it very good. This is not much consolation to someone who has just been made redundant. Perhaps the real problem lies in the fact that this society offers little indication of an inner refuge. Thus, the inevitable changes of economics and politics take their toll in human suffering. Through it all, however, the Dhamma-Vinaya remains an impeccable source of guidance, admonishment and encouragement. Most of us need some social stability in order to contemplate the Buddha's teaching with any depth of penetration. Happily, the monastery provides standards for reflection based on Dhamma Vinaya - standards that provide our affiliated community with the guidance necessary for the development of stability in our own lives. Just being here, then, and practising the Buddha's way is important. Pointing out to people that there is an inner refuge independent of political parties and the price of lamb in Tehran, seems to be a vital task on this rather bruised planet.