Forest Sangha Newsletter January 1995

Mature Emotions; Ajahn Vajiro
Cambodia's Nobel Nominee; Alan Channer
No Ease in the Isahn; Ven. Natthiko
Dhamma for the Young; Ven. Kusalo
Giving in to the Deathless; Ven. Sobhano
Sutta Class: Being & Becoming; Aj. Vipassi
Jugglers Wanted; Ajahn Sucitto
Signs of Change:


Giving in to the Deathless

Venerable Sobhano reflects on the significance of the first Upasika precept ceremony held at Amaravati on October 15th 1994

From the outside it could have appeared like an ordinary enough occasion. Just another precept ceremony, forty or so lay people sitting in the sala requesting the precepts from Luang Por Sumedho. But there were one or two unusual features. For one thing it was in the afternoon. For another, it wasn't Kathina.

Everyone present had been invited to bring offerings of candles, flowers and incense, and to offer them to Luang Por before asking individually to take the three refuges and five precepts, spoken with a great deal of emotion, or with boldness, caution or grace.

This was in fact the first formal ceremony at Amaravati of the newly formed Upasika Training Community. This is comprised of lay people who want to formalise their affiliation with the Forest Sangha, and to commit themselves to a regular system of training within the lay life under the guidance of the Sangha. It was a touching ceremony to observe: all forty repeating in sonorous, well-practised tones the familiar precept recitation in Pali. Perhaps it was because of the simplicity and naturalness of the ceremony, belying the seriousness of it's intent, that it seemed to evoke so many memories and reflections of the short history of our community here at Amaravati.

Luang Por's constant reminder that to seek perfection via new management structures, interpersonal group dynamics, non-hierarchical decision making processes, etc. etc., was delusion.

Amaravati was launched ten years ago with the intention of offering facilities for the study and practice of Dhamma. It was to be a Buddhist centre for all; including a Retreat Centre, a residence for the growing ordained women's community, and accommodation for the increasing number of lay people wishing to taste the monastic lifestyle. And it was close to London. It spawned a whole host of additional projects that couldn't have been conceived of before the Sangha's arrival - including the library, family camps and publication resources.

In the last few years however the community has been going through a period of introspection. How could we sustain the level of teaching and services that we offered to the lay community as well as provide a balance of quiet seclusion for the monastic community? The Sangha had stretched itself to maintain a high standard of Dhamma teachings, both in response to the interest shown and out of gratitude to those who have continually supported us with the requisites for our well-being.

We realised that we needed to step back a pace or two in order to get the internal rhythms of the community 'right'. And there was the Catch 22, how could we achieve this when there was so much to do? Just keeping a monastery this size clean and tidy was a major achievement. Luang Por's constant reminder that to seek perfection via new management structures, interpersonal group dynamics, non-hierarchical decision making processes, etc. etc., was delusion. The very idea that there was something 'wrong' out there was what we needed to see. So we let go. With a refreshed perspective we begin to realise that within the tradition itself there is provision for the management and cooperation of the lay and monastic community - the Fourfold Sangha.

Very tentatively we are beginning to witness that, to the extent that we let go of our involvement in the running of Amaravati, we are simultaneously creating opportunities for the lay community to get involved. The arrival of Ajahn Viradhammo has provided a timely catalyst to move us a step further in this direction, with his firm but gentle leadership.

The Upasika day in October coincided with the last in a series of meetings we had held to establish the Amaravati Support Network. Now we have a smaller steering committee that meets fortnightly to coordinate the seventy, and rising, individual offers of help that we have received since our mail-out last issue. We already have several long-term lay residents who have undertaken to take over some of the areas of responsibility within the monastery - including the kitchen, grounds, library and offices - for a year at a time. And with the foundation of the Upasika training, being developed now by Ajahn Viradhammo, we are seeing the spiritual ties between the lay and monastic communities strengthened.

There was a visible expression of joy from Luang Por Sumedho as he addressed the Upasikas that Saturday in October. Such a demonstration of commitment, to one who has spent the last ten years encouraging the lay community here, was its own reward. There was a sense that Amaravati no longer simply belonged to those that lived here, but to the Fourfold assembly of monks, nuns and male and female Upasikas. The very need for participation in the running of our centre is also giving lay people a much more tangible connection to the Triple Gem that we had so long been providing through the formal teaching situations alone. Through the giving of our time, energy and commitment to Amaravati, we are also giving in to the Deathless.