SIGNS OF CHANGE
A Branch in California:
A report from Ajahn Amaro.
On the full moon day of Vaisakha two auspicious and significant events occurred in the slow and gentle process of establishing a branch monastery of this community in California. A long-time student and friend of the Sangha, Tom de Maria, took the step of requesting the Eight Precepts and going forth into anagarika life - to pursue his monastic training on his native soil. Earlier that afternoon contracts had been completed for the purchase of the property adjoining the 120 acres of forested hills that we had been given in June of last year by the late Ven Master Hsuan Hua. The new property has a small house and garage, also an access road and water and electricity supplies - amenities that were lacking on the original site. In addition there are 128 more acres of very fine woodland, including the free flowing 'Goat Canyon Creek'.
The land is a bowl-shaped valley, near the source of the Russian River, in Mendocino County, about 120 miles north of San Francisco. It rises 1000 feet from the banks of the Russian River to the top of a ridge and looks out over miles of forest stretching away to the south. In the distance, 15 miles away, the town of Ukiah is just visible, and beyond it is located the City of 10,000 Buddhas - the monastery established by Ven Master Hsuan Hua in 1976. It is a peaceful, unspoilt area, and is also embellished by the presence of a Byzantine Orthodox Christian monastery, of forest-dwelling monks and nuns, bordering the northern edge of our land. The summers are hot and the winters wet in these parts, but the climate is generally temperate, the area being on the northern tip of the wine-growing region of California.
The main aim in creating this new foundation is to provide a supportive environment for those interested in participating in monastic life. California already possesses numerous opportunities for Dhamma instruction and meditation retreats (there are 20 vipassana meditation groups around the Bay Area alone) but there is little established so far for those who wish to practise according to the Theravada teachings in a traditional monastic environment. Thus our focus here is simply upon living the forest monastic life and creating a beneficial situation for those interested people. We will not be doing much more external teaching than once-a-month visits to San Francisco and occasional day-long meditations at Spirit Rock.
There is much work to be done in refurbishing the house, converting the garage into a meditation hall and setting up tent and kuti sites in the forest as dwelling places - besides setting up water tanks and toilets, and path-making through the dense undergrowth of manzanita and poison oak...The physical needs of the place necessitate a certain 'Dhamma in action' approach to meditation practice, but this is an excellent way of helping to generate and sustain the precious quality of 'Sangha' amongst both friends and supporters, and also the monastics. Experience in England has shown that working hard and getting grubby together whilst creating your place of Dhamma life is a great way of developing these qualities; it should also be said that we intend to live on the land as simply as possible at first, being with it for a few cycles of seasonal changes, before deciding what major structures to put up, and where.
At present the resident community consists of Ajahn Visuddhi, Anagarika Tom, Mark Bullock (who helped on the last Rains Retreat) and myself. We expect Ajahn Pasanno to join us in December, after he has passed on all his responsibilities at Wat Pah Nanachat to Ajahn Jayasaro, who will be the new abbot there. As Ajahn Pasanno has long term ties and commitments in Thailand, he will probably be making annual visits back there, as I will also to England, to help sustain close relationships with the community in Europe. Already we have received donations of fine Buddha-images from England, Thailand and Chicago, as well as a Buddha-relic to bless the new foundation. We look forward to visits by several members of the Sangha during these first few weeks, including Ajahn Sucitto and Ajahn Jayasaro; we are also extremely honoured to host Tan Chao Khun Pannananda, who plans to come out to California especially to see us for a few days at the end of June.
So a new life begins. It has been a long and sometimes arduous process for all the elements to come together to bring this venture to life, but it looks like it's finally here. A sapling takes root and the young bright greens of its first spring come forth - where it will all go from here is the great Unknown, but so far the auspices seem good.
Ajahn Chandapalo writes.
In April I was invited to join an 'Elders' Council' meeting of senior monks and nuns at Chithurst in England, and was asked about the present situation at Santacittarama. Assuring them that I was happy to remain here and that there are promising signs of continued support for the monastery and interest in Dhamma, the Sangha approved of my taking responsibility as the senior incumbent. It was also agreed that the project of establishing a new location for Santacittarama should go ahead. I have been encouraged to keep in close contact with the Sangha in England and to maintain as my priority the living of the monastic life, thereby offering a suitable environment for those who wish to share it, whether for short or long periods. Therefore I intend to limit any teaching activities to the Rome/Napoli area, and to invite those who have the opportunity and inclination to spend some time practising with us at Santacittarama.
This is something that two bhikkhus cannot do alone, it needs the goodwill and assistance of many people. All contributions, however humble, are much appreciated - such as requisites, help in the garden, cleaning, cooking, shopping, office work, translating, transporting and so on. Or just being a peaceful presence, someone who is skilfully using their time for developing the Path and being a good example for others.
Also appreciated would be help or any suggestions in this search for larger and more secluded premises for Santacittarama. Ideally, we hope to find several hectares of land, perhaps partially wooded, either with some building that could be adapted for monastic use or with the possibility to construct something suitable.
Having completed three years at Santacittarama my Italian, if not fluent, is now at least useable. I enjoy living in Italy, and am grateful for this wonderful opportunity to practise Dhamma with like-minded people in a country that is ripe for the teachings of the Lord Buddha. We hope that the presence of the Triple gem will continue to be of benefit for this generation and many to come.
Ajahn Thiradhammo offers this reflection.
How then are we able to find a 'right commitment'? That is, the most skilful commitment to something beyond the range of selfish interests and goals - a commitment to Truth, or Dhamma. Dhamma includes developing spiritual exercises, but it is also 'trans-personal', it transcends the limitations of my personal ideas of practice, because Dhamma is the Truth of all things. It transcends the reactions to success and failure, because it includes both success and failure, happiness and suffering, better or worse etc. The question then arises, whether we really want to commit ourselves to Truth, or do we wish to remain committed to success or happiness? Committing oneself to the Truth of Dhamma means that we have to transcend our usual sense of self in order to encompass everything. Success and failure, happiness and suffering are true, not as ultimates in themselves, but as the extremes which the self runs to in its endless wandering in ignorance. To see the Truth of Dhamma is to see the very nature of the self-centred activity for what it truly is. Even spiritual practice can become an area for self-centred activity! If we don't have something noble, such as Dhamma, to commit ourselves to then we inevitably end up committing ourself to ourself, with its successful 'ups' and failing 'downs'. This is the opposite of commitment to Dhamma, the spiritual practice which leads to the equanimous peace of selflessness.
.....Thus the passage of time rolls continually along. And even though we project plans onto the calendar, there is only the present moment, whether we realise it or not. The monastic schedule, woven into the fabric of important events, provides a steady but flexible point of reference, just as awareness of breathing does for the mind. Although we continue to live in the 'same' building, the 'same' is forever changing - the old gets older, even the new gets older. Are we also just getting older, or older and also wiser?'