SIGNS OF CHANGE
The Law of Peace
Ajahn Munindo sends news from Ratanagiri Monastery, that despite protracted legal wranglings, local support continues to grow.This year's inclement weather conditions of June and July failed to foil the planned Tudong walks of the monks at Harnham. Two community members went with Nick Scott and several other laymen for a six-day hike from Harnham to Darlington. Ven. Vipassi was accompanied by Andrew Walker for two weeks' walking through the Lake District and Borders area, taking in a weekend family gathering at the Downhams' farm. Ajahn Munindo hiked for a week in Bavaria with Ven. Suriyo as a guest of his family there and Tan Sugato joined Ajahn Ariyesako for two weeks' walking in Cornwall.
The seven of us, including Tan Thitapanno and Anagarika Matthew, determined the vassa - dividing the time between formal solitary retreating and stone walling and roofing. As the weather fails to dampen the spirits of the residents here, the testing affair of litigation likewise fails to depress the community at large. In May the Trustees of the Magga Bavaka Trust won a court appeal to have the case against them struck out on technical grounds. There are several reasons why this was a successful manoeuvre. The judge had no hesitation in awarding costs (which are considerable) in the Trustees' favour. Regrettably, the Plaintiff's solicitors decided to reserve the right to appeal, so accordingly the process continues to drag on. However, our Trust's solicitors are more confident than ever about the eventual outcome of the case.
So far, the portion of the huge expenses that have required immediate payment have been met by the generosity of many devoted supporters. This still leaves enormous debts. Meanwhile, not only are the various fund-raising ventures succeeding financially, but they are serving to more firmly knit together a strong and harmonious community.
The annual retreat for the lay community took place as usual in mid-August to fit in with Scottish school holidays. Again, as usual, it was full with 30 retreatants, and was effective in renewing enthusiastic commitment to practice in daily life.
The financial constraints imposed by the legal complexities have obviously placed limitations upon the work we can do on the building projects. However, donations specified for use on the Dhamma Hall have meant that things haven't stopped completely. The old barn from which the new hall was extended is now being transformed into an entrance hall. This will increase accommodation capacity in the main hall itself. It will also house the magnificent 3 metre by 2 metre mural by Pang that was commissioned by Wanchai and Lumyai. The mural depicts the Buddha conquering Mara and provides a vivid reminder of the work we have to do and the realistic possibility of succeeding at this task.
May all beings remain strong in their true resolution.
Santacittarama: A New Centre of Light
Ajahn Thanavaro reports on the struggles involved in beginning a new monastery.More than three years have passed since Santacittarama opened as the first Theravadin monastery in Italy. I had just returned from New Zealand after a five year period, with a premonition of the task ahead, and before my brothers and sisters in the Sangha realised it, I had once again taken up the challenge of a new beginning.
At the time, the signs of interest in the Buddha-Dhamma in Italy were auspicious, and I had felt that after 14 years of training abroad, I was ready to help by establishing a vihara in my native land. This decision came as a surprise to many, but Luang Por Sumedho was behind it, and Luang Por Jun on my departure from Amaravati had assured me of the blessings and the support of Luang Por Chah and the Sangha in Thailand.
Thinking back on it now, it seems a very long time and, in addition to some grey hairs, this undertaking has brought good fruits. The embryonic stage of Santacittarama (the Garden of the Peaceful Heart) has passed, although not without discomfort and the fear of miscarriage. What had been started as a hazardous experiment, for some, has proved to be working in spite of the challenges encountered. Starting a vihara in a new country with very limited support from the laity, and -not to disregard the good will - little understanding of the Way of the Sangha, demands a lot of effort and patience. As I have generally had only one bhikkhu and an anagarika with me - neither of whom spoke Italian -the situation has put me under pressure. Needing to travel to teach and create interest in the vihara has diffused my energies at a time when one would ideally be building a strong foundation in the vihara itself. However, thanks to the continued support of the Triple Gem and my teacher, Luang Por Sumedho, I have been able to withstand the kammic winds of the 'Dark Night of the Soul.'
In the midst of all these forces at work, there took birth in Sezze Romano, a pre-Roman town, a new centre of light for the propagation of peace. The people of the village see the vihara with a sympathetic eye and the bhikkhus are much respected and loved. Our presence has become a living reality as Santacittarama is beginning to function as a meeting place and a teaching centre.
The third stage of our building project on the ground floor of the Vihara is nearing completion. This includes a large meditation hail, two large guest rooms, two toilets, a shower and a small kitchen. The extension of the physical environment reflects the degree of commitment in the work undertaken in response to the level of interest existing in Italy. In this regard, I would like to gratefully acknowledge the generous contributions already received towards the financing of this project. We hope that people will feel welcome to make full use of these new facilities by taking part in the monastic lifestyle.
In the last three years, much of my time and energy has been taken by secretarial and administrative duties as well as teaching all over the country. As a consequence, our small monastic community suffered at times from my absence.
Fortunately we are gaining more stability as Ajahn Chandapalo has chosen to reside at Santacittarama for an indefinite period and a Thai bhikkhu, Phra Preecha Jutindharo, is to join us possibly for a year or more. His presence will be much appreciated to revive our connectedness to the Thai Forest Tradition and the Thai community in Rome.
Already, the Theravadin bhikkhus are an important addition to the Italian Buddhist movement and our foundation in the Vinaya makes us a good vessel for the transmission of the Dhamma. As I am writing these words, more than a million people will watch an Italian national television documentary of film director Paolo Brunatto entitled 'The Great Peace', showing the grandeur of the funeral service of Luang Por Chah contrasted with the simple lifestyle of the bhikkhu in the monasteries of North East Thailand.
It is heart-warming to see how the integrity and the spiritual stature of our Thai master has also spread here in different ways - including translations of his books into Italian. The translation and publication of books by Ajahn Buddhadasa and Ajahn Sumedho has been one of the ways that I have been able to spread the Dhamma. In the next few months, a book containing a selection of my talks called 'Don't Create More Suffering' (please!) should also appear. Surely one day it will be possible to go forth as a samana in Italy, and then I will rejoice with all the others for having worked for the full establishment of the Dhamma in this country.
May the Light and Power and Love of the Dhamma shine in your Heart/Mind.
Devotion in Death
Sophie Young, previously known as Sister Cintamani, tells of her experience caring for her mother, Sasha, who died on June 22nd 1993 after a long illness.Looking after our parents when they are dying is one of the most natural and yet most difficult things to do. It is very painful to see your mother's body, the body which brought you into this world, gradually growing weaker before the eyes and under the touch of your hands. Your whole being cries out: no, no, this shouldn't be happening and all you can do is soothe, support and offer love. There is nothing you can do to halt the process of the disease. Yet this was also one of the most fulfilling and life-enhancing times of my life, a time I will always cherish and be grateful for having shared with dear Sasha. As she said herself not long before she died 'My spirit is strong, it's just the body that's collapsing.'
Sasha's room became a temple in those last weeks and days of her life. Going through her door you entered a sacred space where she was the high priestess, a radiant queen robed in oriental gowns. Abiding so completely in the moment, she accepted the pain and sadness of dying, she delighted in the joys of life. Everything in the room had a meaning - each flower arrangement on her shrine told a story. The red roses seemed to lean toward the Buddharupa with their green leaves touching him gently on the shoulder. Sasha explained that the red roses were the spirit of the Buddha's mother giving strength to him as she was dying. The Buddha's mother died soon after he was born.
Midsummer's day was Sasha's last full day on this earth. Propped up in bed by a mass of brightly coloured pillows, she opened her eyes in the morning and looked across at the beautiful Buddha on the shrine at the foot of her bed. She focused her gaze and slowly joining her shaking palms together, she bowed three times with respect, grace and simplicity. Devotion with no end other that wanting to bow to the Buddha on her last day, bringing tears of love and gratitude for such a noble-hearted mother.
Sasha was a regular visitor and supporter of the monasteries here in England, well known and well loved by the Sangha who in turn visited her during her illness. Her funeral, at which Ajahn Sumedho gave a talk, was attended by many of the monks and nuns.