SIGNS OF CHANGE
Italy; Ajahn Chandapalo
After at least a year of searching for larger and more secluded premises closer to Rome, Santacittarama is on the verge of moving to a new location, subject to the satisfactory conclusion of final negotiations. The property, an attractive seventeenth century farmhouse with around ten acres of land, comes close to an ideal compromise between isolation and accessibility. Standing on a small rise within a loop of the River Aniene, a tributary of the Tiber, it is surrounded by woods and hills that roll off in all directions, and provides a natural protection against possible encroachment by further building development. It lies five miles from Tivoli, a favourite holiday resort of the ancient Romans and to this day a popular tourist attraction thanks to its panoramic position, its artistic monuments and its fountains. The property is in a locality called Santa Balbina, only twenty-five miles east of Rome and easy to reach by car or public transport. The house is not very large, but should suffice until funds are available and permission obtained to build other structures, such as a meeting hall or temple and further living quarters. We may have moved in by the end of the year if everything works out. When next on a visit to the Pope, please give us a call too!
Amaravati; Ajahn Viradhammo
As this newsletter goes to print the richness and warmth of summer is beginning to change to the cooler mornings and stunning colours of autumn. It's been a fabulous year for butterflies and the purple flowering Buddleia which overhangs the walkway to the bhikkhu vihara has been covered by scores of Red Admirals and Monarchs throughout the last few months.
The summer is also a very rich time for hearing Dhamma at Amaravati and many are the opportunities to contemplate the teachings of the Buddha. Ajahn Sumedho's reflections at breakfast time, to the resident community, are filled with the spontaneity and warmth that informs his life and teaching. This is some of the Dhamma food that the community use for their practice and sets a contemplative tone to the rest of the day. As well as the regular schedule of retreats and meditation workshops, there are also the series of 10 public talks on Sunday afternoons during the summer. These have been well attended and both Ajahn Sumedho and I have enjoyed offering our thoughts and reflections. Ven. Assaji has been giving instructions in the study of the Pali language and the suttas, while Sisters Siripanna and Thanasanti have been offering guidance in the Dhamma and Vinaya to the anagarikas.
As for movements in the community these are always too numerous to mention but for those who are familiar with the sangha at Amaravati here are a few of the major shifts. Ajahn Sumedho was in Prague for a week in Sept.; in San Francisco for a week in Oct.; in New Zealand for half of November and December and in Thailand in January and February. Sister Upekkha has left for a year to practise in other monasteries and is presently at Wat Buddha-Dhamma in Australia. Sister Vayama is with Sister Upekkha and plans to continue her monastic life in the Southern Hemisphere. Ajahn Ariyasilo, one of the stalwarts at Amaravati for the past two years is in the Hammer wood enjoying a few months of kayaviveka at Cittaviveka. Vens. Katannuto and Thitadhammo are now bhikkhus and spending their first rains at Chithurst. Ven. Dhammaratana has joined us from Sri Lanka, while Ven. Abhinnano, a New Zealander who has been a bhikkhu in Thailand for the past 8 years, has also joined us for the vassa. Cameron took the anagarika precepts at the end of August and Anagarika Sujata is in Russia helping her brother who is seriously ill.
Finally, in August Sister Medhanandi went to Florida to be with her ailing mother and to help her father during this difficult time. On the 6th of September Sister Medhanandi's mother passed away after a very long illness. We have been doing chanting and meditation, sending our feelings of metta/karuna to Sister Medhanandi, her father and the rest of her family.
The family camp was very successful with the final presentation, a drama about the eight worldly winds called ‘Squirts World’, being one of the most endearing musical productions since last year’s classical production ‘The Singing Chickens’.
One of the challenges at Amaravati is to create a community where not only monastics but also a limited number of lay practitioners can live on a more long term basis. The role of the long term lay residents is very important and our ordained community feel tremendous gratitude for their contribution to the well-being of Amaravati. Their participation in the life of the community and their work in the office, retreat centre, in maintaining the grounds, the vehicles, the buildings, the library and so on is an integral part of the scene at Amaravati. This blend of lay and monastic practitioners is somewhat unique in our monasteries and creates a very rich sense of community.
The temple is looking magnificent and all of us at Amaravati feel very privileged to have been able to watch this stupa-like structure grow and take shape. If all goes according to plan we shall be able to use the largely finished temple for our Kathina celebration on the 17th of November.
The on-going Saturday meditation workshops, the retreats held in the retreat centre and discourses on the observance days all add to the richness of Dhamma contemplation at Amaravati.
Ajahn Viradhammo has been meeting with the samaneras and anagarikas twice a week to consider the Vinaya and how that works as a tool for communal harmony and individual mindfulness.
The butterfly season at Amaravati has come to an end and the cycle of these little winged creatures moves to a different phase, awaiting yet another season of blooming Buddleia. The summer's richness will soon turn to the quiet of winter. For the resident community at Amaravati the colder weather will also bring the stillness of our winter retreat and with a bit of luck we shall be using the new temple for the months of January and February. This is a wonderful prospect.
Amaravati Lay-Buddhist Group; Chris Ward
In the Spring of 1995 at a Upasika study day, Nick Carroll, Cliff Glover and myself were discussing the value of local lay-Buddhist groups and how Amaravati could be a venue for such a group. After some subsequent discussion meetings started on Friday evenings from 8–10 pm in the Bodhinyana Hall.
The early meetings were used to suggest and agree a framework; meeting structure, how they would be led; what the themes should be, and what we should call the group. The name evolved from Friday Upasika Group to Amaravati Lay-Buddhist Group (ALBG) which seems simpler and more self-explanatory.
The meetings start with a short period of chanting followed by around 35 minutes of meditation. One of the group then introduces the evening’s discussion with a talk of between 5–20 minutes. There is then an open discussion for around one hour and a final short chant.
The ALBG has proved very beneficial in a variety of different ways; providing a regular time for lay-Buddhists to meet and discuss aspects of the Buddha’s teachings and our own practice. Many of us are relatively new to Buddhist teachings, which can seem quite daunting. The meetings provide an informal venue for learning basic teachings and for applying these in daily life. It has also provided an opportunity for lay-Buddhists to develop confidence in talking about aspects of practice as, when the group started, there were very few who felt confident enough to introduce a subject.
Social meetings have also gradually become established, where we meet for afternoon tea at a house or go on a walk together. This has enabled the group to learn more about each other – about families, our work, our interests and also to discuss Buddhism in a completely informal environment.
Attending meetings can seem a chore but being with good people at Amaravati is an enjoyable event which generates joy and faith and encourages discipline.
The ALBG programme is displayed around Amaravati and there have been announcements in the Forest Sangha Newsletter. For further information telephone: (01442) 890-034