Forest Sangha Newsletter January 1999
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

Returning Homeless:
Working With Nature:

Returning Homeless
Dhammapala, the vihara in Switzerland, was opened in May of this year with Ajahn Tiradhammo as Abbot, accompanied by Venerable Chandapalo, Sister Cittapala and Anagarika Ernesto. Sister Cittapala was born in Switzerland and has spent most of her life there, so she was the natural choice as a nurse for the baby monastery - at least until the abbot learns some German, and the locals feel at ease with the Sangha.

Often I am asked how it feels to return to Switzerland as a Buddhist nun, after having lived here before as a mother and housewife, and as a nurse for nearly years. First of all I realised how much deep love there is in my heart for the Swiss, a love which is no longer concentrated only on family and friends, but towards all as being one big family. At the same time a lot of compassion arises for their struggle, and - I would say - almost unnecessary suffering.
Switzerland is a very rich, well-organised and beautiful country, with its impressive mountains, glaciers, lakes, forests and wildflowers, and has a high standard of living and apparent security. Crime is quite rare and one sees hardly any violence: there is no sense of danger in going alone through the towns in the evening in Switzerland.

When there is no higher goal in their lives than possessions and sense-pleasures, people feel lonely and depressed.

The Swiss are very diligent and hard-working; relaxation is only allowed on holidays or Sundays, when one is definitely not to do any gardening or house-cleaning. Activities for the preservation of nature are widespread, and there is an increasing awareness towards health food: smoking and drinking are less socially acceptable. The government is busy organising walking weekends and several programmes to educate people in preparation for their lives after retirement. However, the work ethic is so deeply ingrained that they are rarely able to stop; often they only exchange one form of activity for another. All kinds of sports, and gymnastic exercises, are highly praised activities: but if done properly one does not give up until completely exhausted.

Of course, this kind of attitude becomes very obvious on retreats also: "Unless I sit and meditate hard I won't get anywhere!" Perfection is the upheld ideal. Generally people become very tense and distressed, their minds plagued with conflicts, worries, anxiety and depression, until they no longer notice the natural beauty that surrounds them.

So Switzerland is spiritually quite poor. When there is no higher goal in their lives than possessions and sense-pleasures, people feel lonely and depressed. The senses get over-stimulated, but the heart is often dried-up with a nameless longing, or feelings of boredom and meaninglessness. So, more and more people are looking for something higher without actually knowing what they are searching for.

Cerainly there is a gradual recognition of the need for change. The country does have many Christian churches and monasteries, but people are turning instead to psychiatrists, psychoanalysts and astrologers and trying to solve their problems through group therapy, astrology yoga, sacred dance, therapeutic touch, massage etc. The list is endless.

What are people looking for when they come to the Vihara? Many of them have done several retreats, with different teachers. One of the common difficulties that people have is in extending their Dhamma practice from the specialised retreat situation of silence and minimal activity, into their normal lives in the outside world. Someone once said that a few days after retreat it felt like being enmeshed once again in a net of habits. The struggle between the desire to return to the peaceful retreat situation and the demands of the family and work, evokes frustration and despair.

So what can a little monastery such as Dhammapala provide in such a situation? Well, it can serve as a source of refreshment and inspiration, a place to go for a breather. It may bring up the best in ones mind, perhaps a reflection on the structures and priorities of ones daily life, a reminder to live more simply and to give more time for meditation and contemplation. Association with those who practise the Dhamma supports one's determination, and creates an opportunity to rise above self-centredness. Noble qualities may arise, the wish to serve and to offer dana, which results in a more joyful life.

One day, here at Dhammapala, I asked a guest who likes to come and stay for several days at a time, what this occasion meant for her. "I don't have to come here to be anyone, or to play a certain role" she replied, "I can just be as I am and feel accepted. Listening and watching how you deal with each other, and function as a group with different situations or difficulties is very pleasant to my mind. I can feel that there is no oppression, but just a relaxed and open, harmonious responding to whatever is required in the present situation." Along these lines she continued: "It gives a feeling of refuge,that whatever happens there is this peace-island to come to"

Several years ago, when I was still a nurse and housewife, going to Chithurst monastery was each time a deeply moving experience for me. I was always very impressed that the Buddha did not want people to just believe anything he, or other teachers, said, but to investigate and find out for themselves. Part of the beauty of the Buddhist teaching is its clarity and simplicity. It points directly to the path of deliverance, leaving it up to us to make the necessary steps and to look closely where we put our feet. If my heart is open and sensitive, if there is composure and awareness, then I am able to see the truth of this very moment.

Well, the fruits of the practice are obvious indeed: great joy fills my heart, and gratitude in being no longer bound by the endless search for happiness and pleasure. I experience that sense of freedom much more strongly here, where I am more exposed to old habits and memories than I was in England-, and this provides the necessary space to live in the immediacy of the present moment. So, although we are hoping that the Sangha will firmly take root in Switzerland, I feel that whatever else happens, if we practise "letting go" things will take their natural course.