|Forest Sangha Newsletter||January 1995|
Shortly after the end of the Vassa this year, Luang Por Sumedho formally instated Ajahn Viradhammo as the new abbot of Amaravati. This means an allowance for Luang Por to step back from the day-to-day business of Amaravati, and focus more on teaching and travelling for extended periods, without Amaravati being neglected. It also means that there will be an experienced bhikkhu, a mahathera, who can focus on understanding and drawing attention to the needs of the resident community.
It was a little over ten years since the Sangha arrived at Amaravati - in fact Ajahn Viradhammo and myself had been sent in advance to unlock the rooms and tidy up before the main party of monks and nuns, led by Ajahn Sumedho, arrived. A month or so later Ajahn Viradhammo was off to New Zealand and the rest of us were still wandering around this sprawling site wondering what to make of it. We didn't even know whether it was supposed to be a monastery or some hybrid Buddhist Centre with a resident Sangha around its edges. There were plans for a retreat centre, for some lay management structure; perhaps a hospice. It was a place of plans and visions and experimentation.
It still is. A few things such as the Retreat Centre and the Family Camp seem to have established themselves firmly; and some side-effects noted. We found that having a variety of contrasting Dhamma activities occurring within the context of one contemplative community meant that some of the settled homogeneity that is a norm for forest monasteries was sacrificed. That entailed a shift of perspective - the focus of the community had to be attitude and personal mindfulness, above group form. This was not altogether a bad thing - it really opens the door for lay people to participate in the community - but it's easy to get lost in the details of one particular project if mindfulness and attention to form wanes.
Juggle too fast or too slow - you drop the balls;
Focus on one ball - you drop the lot!
To keep the whole thing in a harmonious flow requires balance.
As is the case with all things, creation is one thing, maintenance is another.
As buildings get renovated, they have to be cleaned, tidied, and repaired;
as functions are established, they have to be staffed and administered.
The enthusiasm that accompanies new ideas and projects can tail off when
it comes down to keeping it all going. That requires a different kind of
One thing that is needed, as gets said from time to time, is more hands. But not just that. The Sangha has over the years experimented with supervising the place, or having it administered - with the added responsibility of providing some spiritual guidance for the people working here. At Amaravati, there are frequently more inexperienced newcomers and guests than experienced people. That makes for a greater degree of reliance on the residents to supervise, inform and interact. Suddenly the model of the quiet contemplative with a few simple duties gets an overhauling.
Such effects can condition a loss of balance. The situation is comparable to that of a juggler, who starts off juggling two balls, and gradually builds up to a dozen: it's not more hands he needs, but a balance of attention. Take on more than you can handle, juggle too fast or too slow - and you drop the balls. Focus on one ball at the expense of the rest, or, fail to notice and adjust to the slightly different trajectory of one ball - you drop the lot. To keep the whole thing in a harmonious flow - not too fast, not too slow; to keep the attention over the whole without disregarding the particular - requires balance. That's what the abbot has to specialise in. It helps if we back him up.
Next year, perhaps, the Temple will be constructed. It will be a centre point, a place for establishing balance. Amaravati deserves it as a tenth birthday present; the place has worked hard and served thousands of people. It goes without saying that any help will be appreciated - even if all that is is helping to make the tea for one day. But what we can all do is take a few mindful breaths, wait peacefully when it's time, go willingly when it's time. Most important, we can learn to juggle.
SEVEN WHITE BIRDS
Here I am again