Forest Sangha Newsletter October 1994

Emptiness and Pure Awareness; Ajahn Amaro
Ajahn Gunhah: A Profile; Ven. Chandako
A Little Awakening in Italy; Aj. Chandapalo
Lay Practice in Essex; Pamutto
Love Unbounded; Srs. Candasiri & Medhanandi
Suffer the Little Children; Ven. Sobhano
Temple Project at Amaravati
Sutta Class: Authority of a Teacher; Aj. Sucitto


A Little Awakening in Italy

Bhikkhu Chandapalo sends news from Santacittarama in Italy.

Although the recent film Little Buddha was a flop in England, in director Bernardo Bertolucci's native land of Italy it was received with great interest and anticipation and played to full houses. In their search for material on Buddhism at the time of the film's release the media soon discovered Santacittarama and, shortly after Ajahn Thanavaro had left for a three-month trip to Australia, New Zealand and Thailand, we found ourselves giving interviews for major newspapers and radio, and appearing briefly on prime-time television. Fortunately, Venerable Dhammiko came to help out during the Ajahn's absence, and having a native Italian speaker present was greatly appreciated. Although many of the articles were rather shallow and superficial, with whimsical titles such as "The Buddha has arrived among the artichokes of Latina" and "Tibet in Sezze", the interest that was generated was very genuine and sincere. The current dissatisfaction with the 'Establish-ment' in Italy does not seem to have affected their respect for the spiritual life and religious teachings. The locals were very impressed with the amount of attention given to their Buddhist monks and the only Theravada monastery in Italy, and rumours were soon rife that the world famous football player, Roberto Baggio, widely known to be a Buddhist, was doing a retreat there!
During one period of several weeks last year I realized that, as far as I knew, I was the only bhikkhu in the whole of Italy! Therefore we do appreciate the occasional visits from other bhikkhus.

The building development at Santacittarama has now reached a point where such increased interest can be accommodated; what was previously car parking space below the single story building is now 2 dormitories with room for at least 8 men, 2 bathrooms, and a 50 square metre meditation hall, which is now home to a large brass Buddha image donated from Thailand. Our evening meditation is regularly attended by local people, and people come from all over Italy, from as far as Sicily in the south to Milan and elsewhere in the north, to stay a few days or longer. A nearby apartment has also been made available to allow women guests the opportunity to participate in the daily life of the monastery. Recently we had our first meditation weekend for lay people and these are likely to become a regular feature in the monastic calendar.
After four years residence and a steadily expanding teaching itinerary that takes him to many parts of Italy, Ajahn Thanavaro has become very widely known and much in demand. A recent sign of this recognition was his election to the presidency of the 'Italian Buddhist Union', an umbrella organization that represents Buddhists of all the major traditions present in Italy. The time has come, however, when he sees the need to reduce this level of external commitments in order to spend more time consolidating the monastic life. With a stable Sangha presence the new facilities at Santacittarama should help to create a suitable environment for those wishing to deepen their study and practice of Dhamma. A resident community of three should allow each bhikkhu a regular opportunity for solitude and quiet retreat, either in the kuti at the bottom of the garden (which was recently built by Italian friends and funded by Thai supporters) or in a prehistoric cave in the ruins of a monastery some twelve miles away. Santacittarama may be the smallest branch monastery but it could well be the busiest and these periodic retreats will be very welcome.

Weekends at Santacittarama have always seen large numbers of Sri Lankan devotees coming to offer dana, and our new meditation hall serves well in accommodating them all. The presence of a Thai monk, Ven. Preechar Jutindharo, has enabled the Thai community to feel much more connected, and they contribute substantially towards the development of the monastery. Also the Burmese and Bangladeshi Buddhist communities, though quite small, look to Santacittarama as the focal point for their religious activities. In many ways the Italian character is similar to the Asian, with its natural faith and generosity, and our regular alms round functions not only as an opportunity for exercise and "flying the flag" but many local people respond very generously, usually offering something that they have grown in their own gardens. In fact it has been very inspiring to witness the concern and generosity that, having been without an anagarika since last November, the bhikkhus' situation of dependency has facilitated.

With the aid of a recently offered computer we have begun to issue a modest newsletter, produced in three languages: Italian, English and Thai, and this is available on request. It will be issued two or three times a year and will serve mainly to keep people informed of latest developments and forthcoming events, and should help the monastery to become more of a focal point for Dhamma activities. This year will see Santacittarama's first 'end-of-rainy-season-retreat alms-giving' ceremony, initiated by a group of Thai people from Naples, who have only recently come to know of the vihara's existence. On the same day, November 13th, we will have an official opening ceremony and inauguration of the new Dhamma hall, and we are looking forward to Ajahn Sumedho's presence on this special occasion.

In October our increasingly popular annual series of weekly classes on Buddhism and meditation will begin again in Rome and continue until next July. The reason that Sezze Romano was chosen as a location for the monastery (a question often asked) was that it lies somewhere between Rome and Naples, and would be accessible to the peoples of both cities. Despite being much further away than Rome, a lot of interest has been developing in Naples of late, and usually there is a monthly meeting which takes place at a vegetarian restaurant. To encourage the Neapolitans and to help reintroduce the 'tudong' tradition to this native land of the original mendicant friars, I am planning to walk to Naples with Venerable Jutindharo on a twelve day pilgrimage at the end of the rainy season retreat.

Although one is unlikely to become lonely at Santacittarama, we do sometimes feel our distance from the "Greater Sangha" (we are about 2000 km from Amaravati). During one period of several weeks last year I realized that, as far as I knew, I was the only bhikkhu in the whole of Italy! Therefore we do appreciate the occasional visits from other bhikkhus; this year Ajahn Sumedho and Ajahn Sucitto spent several days with us and led some well attended retreats for lay people. We also benefit greatly from our contact with the other monasteries, particularly those in England and Switzerland.

As always we rejoice in the goodness and generosity of the very many people who support the Sangha in diverse ways, making available the opportunity for anyone sufficiently motivated to practise the Dhamma and realize the end of suffering. Warm greetings from the deep South and ...

Bhikkhu Chandapalo