Forest Sangha Newsletter July 1994
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Editorial:
Is Buddhism A Religion?; Ajahn Sumedho
Images of Sri Lanka; Sister Siripanya
The Dhamma School: The Wheel Comes Full Circle
Tudong Letter From Macedonia; Venerable Sobhano
Obituary: Greg Klein (Ajahn Anando)
More an agreement than an Order; Ajahn Sucitto
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A Tudong Letter From Macedonia

Venerable Sobhano writes from the Monastery of St. Metamorphosis, Preobrajea; 25 April 1994.

Dear Friends,
I am sitting here writing this letter on an antique Singer sewing machine, looking out of the window at a huge cherry blossom tree in the monastery courtyard overlooking the vast expanse of the valley below.

We are about 50 km north of Prilep in Macedonia and we are on our fifth day in this country. Before we arrived, all the Greek people told us we were crazy to go into Macedonia - nobody wants to go there, it's a terrible place. Well, it is about 30 years behind Greece in terms of technology, stuck somewhere in the late fifties.

What has been preserved is the humanity of the people. The pace of life is slower, the people almost always friendly. They always wave as we walk by. The few cars that pass by honk and flash. People are curious. When we are going through villages all the children gather round and stare at us like in India. I have never seen such poverty as in the south here, but equally I have never experienced such hospitality and sense of community among the people.

 
Human kindness meets human need and a renunciant is always a renunciant and is respected as such.

 
Like everywhere there are two worlds, those that have been educated, and with good jobs, and those living off the land. But there isn't the class bias you find in England. The two worlds mix easily, one isn't so far removed from the other.

The old nun here, who has been ordained for 40 years, is from Bosnia and came here as a refugee. Her father was a famous soldier apparently, and all her brothers are also in monasteries in Serbia. She lives here about 300 metres above the village in a haven of peace with a priest who came from Bosnia with her to look after the 13th century church.

The priest is a burly man, about 5 ft. 6 inches tall, who is constantly working around the small farm here. He has kindly eyes and is a little more backward in coming forward. However, like everyone else he has taken on board this monk from a strange tradition, without hesitation.

The nun is a great character. She has a withered right arm, deformed at birth and has made it her personal responsibility to make sure that I am overfed and "satisfied". She thinks I am like one of the apostles, and seems to pick up on all the signs of simplicity of the monk's robes.

Being a monk is an automatic passport to respect, and having been to Mount Athos is the trump card. We make sure to keep quiet about the monks on Mt. Athos's views about non-Orthodox messengers of Satan, and the Buddhist view of God. And the rest looks after itself. Human kindness meets human need and a renunciant is always a renunciant and is respected as such.

This morning the sun is shining for the first time in three days. We will be leaving Marija, a Buddhist from Skopje, who has been our guide since we have been in Macedonia. Not being able to communicate is obviously a severe handicap but by the end of the week we are expecting to meet up with Ven. Nyanamangalo's mother who will be coming out here to walk with us for a while. Jeffrey Craig may also come out to Ohnid on May 1st but I haven't yet heard whether this is the case.

Being on Tudong has been an occasion for much reflection on the practice. The refuge in emptiness is one's strength, not necessarily physical strength, although I am still blessed with plenty of that. But being alone to accommodate changing conditions, and all the consequent frustrations that go with that, changing moods, impossible people, incomprehensible discussions about your future, fussing mothers and disgruntled companions...sounds familiar.

If I had hoped to escape the Dukkha of life by leaving Amaravati for a few months I would have been severely disappointed. But keeping one's mind turned towards Dukkha, whether in the body or the external conditions going wrong, plans changing, etc., allows the heart to stay open and responsive. This is one benefit to be gained by Tudong. To see how effective the practice is in real life. To be able to sit at the end of the day and let the mind rest, to be able to simply be with the walking and the weight of a pack in the midday sun, to have nothing to worry about but where today's meal is coming from and how we're going to stay warm tonight, these are the blessings of the life on the road.

But none of it would be possible without the background of the monastery. Much gratitude arises at the thought of you all keeping the whole thing going, and to Luang Por and Ajahn Chah for the teaching. Of course the heart grows fonder as we move away from the familiar. But to see how the experience of practice benefits all beings is an inspiration to continue.

I am still at the beginning of the journey, and of course there will be many perils to endure, so I thought I would get this down while I can, and share with you all what I am experiencing.

With best wishes from all the forces of goodness in Macedonia.