|Getting Rooted on the Hill|
Ajahn Munindo reports on the changing fortunes of life on Harnham Hill.
In the last issue of Forest Sangha Newsletter we spoke of the legal dilemma we've found ourselves in at Harnham. Regrettably, no resolution has yet been reached. The trustee's solicitors remain confident about the eventual outcome, but at this time patience and skilful negotiations are called for. Most definitely the donations that are being received are sincerely appreciated.
Fortunately, solicitors and land agents are not the only thing happening on the hill. It is lovely to hold the thought in the mind that a stupa is being built at Harnham at the same time as one is being built in Wat Bodhinyanarama on the opposite side of the planet. On the day that people began working on the foundations for our solid Derbyshire stone stupa, we received news of the projected stupa in New Zealand. The Buddha recommended that, in order that disciples could be supported by the memory of him, stupas could be erected: this same principle of devotion to the Triple Gem is being made manifest at Harnham, with the particular dedication to the late Venerable Ajahn Chah. Our stupa will stand a modest seven feet high so as not to overextend the generosity of the local planning authority, but it will be imbued with immeasurable goodwill and gratitude.
At the time of writing this report we are 10 resident monastic Sangha and 22 lay guests sitting together on a one week retreat. For the first time we don't have to be concerned about space and weather. With the newly-laid floor of oak from Chithurst forest, the secure gale-proof windows and mountains of good intention, all that is left is to get on with the meditation practice. Yet it sometimes seems that the more sincerely we commit ourselves to simplicity and renunciation, the more we discover complexities and apparent obstructions. Here in our new Dhamma Hall a constant reminder of this will soon be provided by a mural painting (commissioned by a group of Thai friends), of the Buddha-to-be encountering the host of Mara. Although he was assailed by previously unimagined difficulties, that was the night of his enlightenment.
Stupas and murals, courtrooms and meditation retreats can all strengthen the spirit of Dhamma that we live by. We find that living with such conscious commitment means that the wild winds of change and uncertainty serve to send our roots deeper. And one thing becomes sure: to realise the 'unshakeable heart' that we aspire to, takes a lot of effort.
The New Temple at Amaravati
Sister Jotaka writes about the progress to date on plans for a new building.
As many of our readers already know, plans are taking shape to erect a new Meditation hall and Temple building at Amaravati. The project, initiated by a number of generous supporters in Thailand, was approved in principle by the English Sangha Trust 14 months ago, and the architect chosen, Tom Hancock, a Buddhist himself, was delighted at the opportunity of designing a Theravada temple in the Western style.
The Temple will be situated with its front roughly where the workshop now stands, on an east-west orientation, and will be visible directly along the line of the cherry tree drive. The new building will replace the old Dhamma Hall and Meditation Room. In addition, the present workshop will be demolished and its contents moved to the site of the existing boiler house. A new workshop is planned for a later stage, and we hope that work on an independent central-heating system for the Retreat Centre will be completed by winter.
It was decided at the outset that the building work would be undertaken in stages, as and when sufficient funds were donated for each phase. For this reason, it is difficult to predict how long the whole project will take to complete. However, we are already receiving generous offerings of money and art-work, and there have been most encouraging expressions of support from both Thailand and Malaysia where large fund-raising efforts are underway.
In England, a Temple Building Fund has already been opened at the Thai Farmers Bank in London, to keep money specifically for the project separate from other donations. Supporters of the monastery who reside in this country will be initiating schemes to raise funds once planning approval has been granted.
Our application for planning approval is due to be considered in mid-September. If we are successful, we will publish a detailed description of the proposed building in the next Forest Sangha Newsletter. We will then be able to commission an updated version of the model which was taken to Thailand earlier this year, and in this way, visitors to Amaravati will be able to see more easily the actual form of the proposed new Temple building.
An American Dream
The slow progress towards establishing an American Vihara, as Venerable Subbato describes, continues ...
On arrival in San Francisco in May of this year, it was obvious at first glance that saving all sentient Americans from the gnashing jaws of greed, hatred and delusion was not going to be an easy task. Undaunted, however, Ajahn Amaro and I settled into our unfurnished Dhamma fortress on top of Diamond Heights in southern San Francisco. Old friends from Ajahn Amaro's previous three visits to the West Coast rallied to support us and a church nearby was rented to hold bi-weekly evening meetings.
We accepted invitations to receive alms-food, we expounded the Dhamma and witnessed the drama of this most colourful and cosmopolitan realm. With an increasing number of hard-core meditators joining us for morning puja, oatmeal and Dhamma discussions, the welcome presence of Venerable Chandako visiting from Wat Pah Nanachat, followed by Sister Medhanandi from Amaravati, and a regular almsround over the whole period, we indeed had us the makings of a monastery.
On the road, we ventured as far south as Wat Pah Mettavanaram, a Thai forest monastery in an avocado orchard, about 40 miles north of the Mexican border. We journeyed as far north as the Sunshine Coast, a couple of hours across the Canadian border. In between, we visited the very Eastern, City of Ten Thousand Buddhas for Wesak, and enjoyed the summer solstice flair of the extremely Western, Esalen Institute, and from the many and varied Buddhist groups we met, both ancient and modern, one could easily imagine we were in a Buddhist country.
However, outnumbered by the homeless urban wanderers of the shopping-cart sect, at least 1000 to one, bombarded by billboards and declarations from people's licence plates (e.g. 'I have PMT and a handgun'), as well as a direct, if not encouraging, response from a burly bodhisattva hanging out of his pick-up truck with a loud 'Get xxxxxxx real will ya!!!', we were reminded that other major social forces were at work here.
Even though the 'great American nightmare' is alive and well, there is clearly a widespread interest and support for a future monastery. The monastic community in Britain, however, is still depleted following the successive disrobings of the past eighteen months, which makes it unlikely that we will be establishing a monastery in the next year. Although this news was met with some disappointment, the general response has been one of resolute enthusiasm, in the best American tradition, unshakeable in the face of all vicissitudes.
One morning on Mission Street, a man in a wheel-chair greeted us with a smile, an empty tin, and a few words in Spanish. Ajahn Amaro and I responded with our recently acquired 'Somos monjes Buddhistos' (we are Buddhist monks). 'Ah!' he said, 'Monjes touristas!' 'No, no,' we attempted, 'monjes Buddhistos.' Even with Sister Medhanandi's help in fluent Spanish, we could not convince him otherwise. But he understood that our 'tins' were empty also and accepted our blessings as if we had filled his cup.
So, whether our short visit heralded the arrival of a new monastery or we are simply to be remembered as the 'monjes touristas', it was just what it was, thoroughly worthwhile. Our best wishes to many friends and to all those indifferent and hostile. God Bless America!
Ajahn Amaro and Ven. Subbato are planning a similar visit to the West Coast in 1993.