SIGNS OF CHANGE
An extract from Ajahn Sucitto's New Year letter to local supporters.
Our life of practice hinges around a fine balance between stillness and activity; in order that activity arises with clarity. I don't think anyone can underestimate the skill that is required to maintain non-attachment to both stillness and activity, nor the value of such a discipline. Being at the centre of a contemplative community means more that a certain competence in what one does: what one is has quite far-reaching effects. So, with this in mind, I have obtained the support of the Sangha to be utterly 'self-centred' for the next seven months.
On the material side of things, the basic structure of the new monastery workshop has been completed; hopefully, the coming year will see the completion of the interior. Another project is the rebuilding of the abbot's dwelling. A generous donor has provided funding for this, which will be undertaken by outside contractors.
In the forest we have one more new kuti, bringing us near to the number that the council have allowed, while still leaving the majority of the Hammer Wood as a wildlife habitat. A good amount of work has been done there in the past year, mostly clearing away the dense growth of birch and rhodedendron which would otherwise smother everything else. Bringing Hammer Wood back to a state where it is more self-sustaining is the work of a lifetime, and we must be patient with the process, which has entailed some upheavals. Native insects and birds are coming back to the forest and a mood of vitality pervades a landscape which was silent as the grave a little over a decade ago. A series of 'Forest Work Weekends' held during the year enabled a number of lay supporters to participate in the process, and others are planned for the coming year.
This year's Bhikkhu Ordination on 21st July may well be the last at Cittaviveka for a while, since an ordination precinct is to be established at Amaravati. Since this coincides with Khun Mudita's 60th year she has asked by way of celebration to organise a 'samaggi' sponsorship of both this event, the Kathina and the nuns' Going Forth at Amaravati later in the year. 'Samaggi' means that it is set up so that everyone who wishes to join in may do so - the intention being to create or deepen a sense of companionship and community amongst people of different families or ethnic groups. 'Samaggi' is one of the signs of a good monastery; without empathy, trust and good communication, the Sangha becomes lifeless. So I pass on the invitation for those of you who would like to take part to let her or Ajahn Karuniko know via the monastery.
"Don't organise too much, and everything will fall into place." This remark, with the emphasis on "too much", rather than "don't organise" was overheard during the week of Magha Puja. It encapsulates the spirit of this year's Sangha gathering at Amaravati. As most of us had arrived from the various viharas around England and Europe without any expectations as to how the week would unfold, it was a delight to discover how easily (admittedly, with a few hurried consultations among the theras) we were able to agree on a way of using the short time we had together for our mutual benefit. The theme that arose for discussion, which seemed to reflect the mood of the moment, was 'Sangha'.
Over a cold and windy week in March, we were able to explore how the ideal of harmony within Sangha is being actualised in the face of an ever-increasing diversification of developments in our far-flung communities. Without the backdrop of a whole society supporting the Sangha (as in Thailand), we become more aware of the interdependent relationships between the monastic and lay communities, and the need to continually strengthen those links. Harmony within Sangha does not necessarily mean conformity. The ideal however points to the place where the interests of the individual and of the group support one another - the essence of Sangha.
Following on from the monastic gathering, more than 100 lay people (upasikas) gathered for a weekend of discussion and reflection. Again, the theme was Sangha; it led on quite naturally to an exploration of ways in which people living away from the supportive structure of a monastery might deepen - or broaden - their practice. (It is hoped that there will be a full report of this weekend in the next FSN.)
We are all grateful for the Amaravati community's willingness in providing the setting for this timely reminder of our shared values; also to all the invisible helpers who kept the wheels of the kitchen moving (not to mention our 32 parts), and of course to Ajahn Viradhammo, whose generous heart and friendly welcome made us all feel appreciated just for being there.
It was with great sadness that we bade farewell to our much beloved brother in the Dhamma, Ajahn Thanavaro, at the end of the Magha Puja week at Amaravati. After 18 years in the Sangha, he has decided to return to the lay life.
For those familiar with the early days of the community in England, Ajahn Thanavaro will always be remembered as one of the first two bhikkhus to be given the Upasampada in this country - on a boat in the middle of the Thames.
In 1985 he went to New Zealand with Ajahn Viradhammo to establish the Bodhinyanarama Monastery, and for the last six years he has been the Abbot of the Italian Vihara - Santacittarama. His commitment to spreading the Dhamma to an ever-growing audience has gradually drawn him away from the monastic life. Finally the pressure of trying to maintain both became too great and he decided to disrobe. He has expressed his intention to continue to support the development of Santacittarama; this will no doubt be greatly appreciated by Ajahn Chandapalo, who will be taking over as resident incumbent. He has also been invited by the Italian Buddhist Union to continue in his position as President until the end of his present term of office.
The Sangha hopes that the virtuous deeds he has cultivated during his bhikkhu life will serve to protect Thanavaro (as he wishes to be known) during this time of transition, and that he may continue to share his practice with us for many years to come.