Forest SanghaNewsletterJanuary 1992

Committed to Freedom; Ajahn Thanavaro
Crossing the Green Divide; Sister Candasiri
One Day of Practice; Venerable Varado
The Life of a Forest Monk: Pt II; Luang Por Jun
Greetings from Switzerland; Venerable Jayamano
Responding to the Sick and Dying; Barry Durrant
A Light in Confinement; prison letters

Editorial; Aj. Sucitto
Down Lay-life Way; B. Jackson
Caring for the Earth; Aj. Sucitto
View from the Hill; Ven. Vipassi


The Real Thing

Some time ago, a reader wrote asking if we couldn't occasionally put in some news of what was happening to individual bhikkhus and siladhara; having known them as postulants, and seen them go through ordination, there is a personal interest in their welfare. That personal contact is part of what the Sangha offers within the limitations of the monastic conventions. It helps to know that these samanas are individual humans as well as religious icons; their character enriches and breathes life into the form, brings the Dhamma into a three-dimensional living and feeling reality. However, it is always the case that bhikkhus and siladhara get transferred to other monasteries, go overseas, and people lose touch.

Currently Ajahn Chandapalo has just returned from a year's stay in Thailand, during which time he stayed at Wat Pah Nanachat and also in a newly-opened forest hermitage near the Lao border where Ajahn Jayasaro is the senior bhikkhu. Prior to that, he spent some years in Switzerland at the monastery in Konolfingen, before it moved (earlier this year) to Kandersteg. At Kandersteg now with Ajahn Tiradhammo is Ven. Javano (who came over to Britain from Thailand with Luang Por Jun in June of 1989) and Ven. Jayamano; Ven. Mahesi has also just joined the community there after several years at Chithurst.

What else? Ven. Kovido, after abiding for several years with an enervating syndrome called ME (no double-entendre intended), regained his strength, and was invited to Western Australia. Prior to going Down Under to practise with Ajahns Jagaro, Brahmavamso and the rest of the Sangha at Bodhinyana Monastery, he went on a marathon Harnham-to-Cornwall tudong walk. He appears to have got into his stride - we hear that, after the Vassa, he took a few monks off for another tudong in the hills in the Perth region. Meanwhile, Ven. Nyanaviro has left Devon and gone to Thailand for a while, to be replaced by Ajahn Chandapalo (shades of musical chairs). Nothing much is changing at Harnham - with regard to the nominal identities of the monks at least - which is just fine, as the monastery, with its new Dhamma Hall nearing completion, is in a blossoming stage.

... there is still the endless moulding and crafting of the heart through the means of giving up personal freedom.
More temporary movements are that Luang Por Sumedho has gone to Thailand, and is expected back in the middle of February. It seems likely that Sister Candasiri will be moving down to Chithurst. . . . But now we're entering the 'realm of the indefinite future', and people get annoyed when reports of future activities prove inaccurate. So I'll say not say much about Ajahn Anando's projected tudong walk in France next spring. More roads and trails going somewhere, more dawns and forests and rain and blisters and sunsets and friends and departures. It doesn't come across so well in print.

There are also the appearances of gains and losses in the community. A steady trickle of aspirants have come forward to take the anagarika precepts; some of the previous ones have taken higher ordination, and a number have left the community altogether. A thinning of the postulant population is not unusual or discomforting - if everybody stayed, one would feel that the lifestyle wasn't challenging enough. Sister Rocana (the second of that name) disrobed after a few months of siladhara life, but as she had not fully adapted to the style of the monasteries in Britain, perhaps this is not so surprising. More poignant are the disrobings of people who have spent many years in the Sangha. Ajahn Pabhakaro left us in the spring, Ven. Bodhinando and Sister Kalayana in the summer, Sisters Thanissara and Satima in the autumn, and this winter Ajahn Kittisaro has indicated his wish to disrobe.

In some cases, people come in expecting something that isn't here, or without fully knowing the tests that the life will put them through. After all, it's not just clear sailing after adjusting to the Eight, Ten, or 227 Precepts; there is still the endless moulding and crafting of the heart through the means of giving up personal freedom. Not being able to determine who you will live with, or to a great extent what you will do in a day, or where you will go, as well as minor things like what you will eat or drink, are all aspects of the giving up. It's not easy. Then again there are the changes one goes through, as hitherto unfathomed areas of the mind or powerful inclinations get revealed through insight. In the reality of the way things are, you can't always apply the simple equations: staying = good; leaving = bad.

People do place a lot of faith in individual monks and nuns, and so can get disappointed in them, or disillusioned with the ideals and practice of the Sangha, when they disrobe. It's all 'good practice' (as they say) when someone leaves, to see whether your faith is dependent on another person's presence - or on your own insights. One would like to think that a monk or a nun had resolved any doubts within their first few years, but reality often refuses to work in terms of rational principles. Any life, the Holy Life included, is a totally subjective experience. The convictions that arise within it are not always accessible to someone else. We can conform as an act of faith, or out of the wish not to upset or disappoint anyone, but that's hardly the grounds for a life of insight. In the long run, the freedom to leave can be seen to be a precious one, and it helps to define the grounds that commitment should rest upon. The Buddha wanted to encourage virtue, insight and wisdom - not a monastic order per se. If monastics recollect that they can leave, even after twenty years, it helps them to examine their motivation and thereby strengthen their practice.

After all, shouldn't we encourage people to take personal responsibility for their commitment? To get back to the starting point of this article, the authenticity and subjectivity of the life, the fact that it is lived by human individuals, is one of its sources of inspiration.Meanwhile (from the monasteries' perspective) another sad note: David Babski, our typesetter/publications manager has run out of visas and H.M. Government will no longer grant an extension. So he will be returning to the United States in the New Year. As David has become largely responsible for the conversion of the Sangha's words into published form, it is not clear how we will continue to publish Newsletters and other material. If nothing from the Sangha comes through your letterbox in April, be assured that we're still alive and trying.

As yet there is still the opportunity to express our gratitude to David for all his diligent (and monetarily uncompensated) work. And also to those leaving the monastic life, for the support, encouragement and companionship over the years. May they all receive the blessings of their practice! It certainly wasn't always easy, but it was the real thing. Long may it continue to be so.

Ajahn Sucitto