Forest Sangha Newsletter April 1990

A Leap of Faith; Ajahn Sucitta
Practice after the Retreat; Sister Sundara
Observance Day at Wat Pah Nanachat; Ajahn Sucitto
The Way; Aj. Liam & City of 10,000 Buddhas monks
Almsround in Britain; Sister Viveka
Question Time; Ajahn Jagaro
Advance is Based on Retreat; Ajahn Sucitto

Buddha Word:


Almsround in Britain

In Britain, the almsround is hardly a means of gathering food; nor, a few loyal supporters excepted, is it a response to householders' desire to make offerings to the Sangha. Still, as Sister Viveka points out, it is a purposeful feature of the monastic day.

Although it is frequently only symbolic here in the West, we still walk on almsround. It can be quite lovely walking through the Hertfordshire countryside. This area has a certain gentle beauty with its small hills and ancient woodland, and has a myriad of footpaths which seem to be well-marked. I like to go out as often as possible and walk for a couple of hours.

It is a satisfying thing to have done with your morning: having finished cleaning up, we collect everything we will need for the meal - sitting cloth, spoon, knife, lap-cloth - and leave them by the places where we will eat the meal. Then, bowing to the shrine, we arrange our outer robes over both shoulders and leave the monastery in single file. We try to walk unhurriedly (save those occasions when the time is miscalculated and we are late back!), often keeping to the footpaths rather than the busy roads.

as sight meets unfamiliar objects and views, the mind seems to become naturally expansive and accepting.

Personally, I find that walking has a good effect on the mind, as well as the body. As we live a fairly sedentry life, this form of exercise ca be very helpful: the natural rhythm of the body walking has a calming effect on any lurking mental preoccupations. After a while things slow right down, and it is easier to be attentive to the sky meeting the horizon, fields of corn, the forest greens, the sound of the wind, the pressure of your feet walking....

One favourite walk is to Little Gaddesden Church, a few miles away. This place is a sanctuary, a place of stillness. Greeted by this note on the porch:

You are welcome in God's House
Please feel free to put on the lights...
If you are thirsty you will find squash in the vestry
Please help yourself (no charge) and rest there
May God bless your visit

...we always feel welcomed by such an open-hearted invitation. To be able to sit in the church for a few moments seems a gift of communion with spiritual seekers from a different religion. It's a reminder that the movement towards goodness is an integral part of human societies, although the forms taken by that movement vary dramatically.

Theravadin Buddhism is essentially nomadic, and the Thai forest tradition from which our Sangha has grown adheres to this quite closely - keeping up the practices of tudong wandering and almsround. Long walks give one a slight taste of this aspect of our inheritance. It is delightful to explore, and as sight meets unfamiliar objects and views, the mind seems to become naturally expansive and accepting. Walking with one or two other nuns several miles away from Amaravati, where people don't necessarily know who or what we are, and we have nothing but our alms bowls and robes with us, the vulnerability of being an alms mendicant in a non-Buddhist country also becomes more apparent. We've had a few adventures: I got bitten by a mischievous foal one morning; another nun was bitten by a dog, and cows - especially young bullocks - love to chase walkers, it seems. So far, thankfully, the bulls have regarded us with disinterest.

I've felt a growing appreciation of our immediate environment - a greater sense of belonging to this area - arise from getting to know it better. From comments made by local people, our walking through the countryside seems to provide an interweaving between a monastic tradition, which can appear puzzling to onlookers, and the peacefulness which is characteristic of the Buddhist discipline. Rather than being 'those strange people up there' we are suddenly accessible - just walking along.

Of course, pindapada in this country is not limited to this type of wandering. Many supporters of Amravati invite monks or nuns to walk to their homes, to talk about Dhamma over a cup of tea. Such invitations take us into the towns of Hemel Hempstead and Berkhamsted, both within walking distance. Pindapada to Hemel Hempstead is a good walk; depending on who you're going to visit, it can take two hours or so. Walking through the Marlowes, Hemel's High Street, on Sunday morning provides a very different view of Hertfordshire. On the morning after Saturday night, Marlowes is a desolate realm holding echoes of fruitless searches for fulfillment. The streets, void of people but littered with empty beer cans and wrappers from Wimpy Bars, present what is most hollow in our society. It leaves a lingering sadness. It is quite a contrast when we arrive at john and Angela's house to join their Sunday morning family. After such a waste-land, it is gladdening to know that there are people who find joy in being able to support others, and in investigating the nature of our human existence.