Forest Sangha Newsletter July 1992

Suffering and the Way to Cessation; Ajahn Sumedho
Flowing with the Pain; Jody Higgs
Towards Simplicity; Sister Thanasanti
Washing Away the Blood; E. Bernstein, Y. Moser
Out in the Outback: Letter from Australia; Ven. Kovido
Life of Forest Monk (Pt IV); Luang Por Jun
Highland Retreat; Venerable Suriyo
Aspects of Training: A Universal Order; Ajahn Sucitto

Signs of Change:
Editorial: Ajahn Sucitto


Highland Retreat

Venerable Suriyo comments on a recent retreat in Scotland by the Harnham Sangha.

Reflecting upon the region's numerous and often turbulent changes, we approached Garth Castle upon invitation for dana. Here was the 14th century residence of Alexander Stewart, known as 'The Wolf of Badenoch', who from all accounts would throw his opponents 110 feet into the burn below. Once again we bore in mind the theme of our 9-day retreat: Uncertainty. Gratefully we received a much friendlier welcome. One could even imagine a Scottish monastery in such a place.

...trusting in the benefits to all of living simply, honestly and with awareness.

As an interval to our normal routine, the community accepted in May the invitation by Jody Higgs to make use of her 'wee thatched cottage' in Perthshire. Situated at the mouth of Glen Lyon - a long, lush and secluded valley near Loch Tay - the setting is very conducive to quiet and contemplation. Ajahn Munindo encouraged us to go walking as much as possible, alone or in pairs. The monks took ample opportunity for this, returning after many hours hiking, sitting beneath the trees and the occasional dip in the chilly streams. Several monks also stayed out overnight in a 'bothy' - a stone shelter high in the hills with only the wind and bleating of sheep for company. Jody and her assistant Brian offered daily meals, sustaining us for such excursions. Along with the group morning and evening meditations there was also opportunity to sit near the wood stove and share our experiences or listen to 'Teachings of Ajahn Chah'.
The quiet location is enhanced by a rich history, full with stories and legends. The land bears its marks with stone circles, Roman forts, castles, old houses and churches. (The local church of Fortingall contains the famous yew tree that David Bellamy has estimated to be over 9000 years old.) Although the land's present appearance is very tranquil, with sheep and lambs dotting the pastures, the legends tell of many passionate and violent times. Clan raids, wars, plagues and land evictions took place, moulding the landscape and the communities dwelling here. As a counterbalance there are stories of saints, seers and many noble deeds of the ordinary folk.

Hearing such tales diminishes the apparent anachronism of Buddhist monks in such a setting. Whereas at first glance some may wonder if we have any common ground with the inhabitants here, upon further investigation we see links binding us together: the aspiration to rise above self-views and concerns, to something greater and more universal; the wish to live in harmony with one's natural surroundings; and of course, the link of suffering and the attempt to welcome it into consciousness, thus allowing for transformation. Seeing such links reduces the feeling of compulsion to prove our worth, trusting in the benefits to all of living simply, honestly and with awareness.

As we return to the monastery the reflections on uncertainty maintain their importance. For although we come back to the familiar, are these conditions stable and secure? Finally, we can only rest with faith that prompts the 'Going Forth' from home to homelessness. Allowing the path to unfold as it will.