SIGNS OF CHANGE
Extracts From Vassa Reports:
The temple looks and feels great. In February the laying of the floor tiles, and the construction of the main building will be finished; but we will have used it before then for the Kathina and the Nuns' Going Forth pabbajja. Hats off to Ajahn Attapemo and Venerable Jutindharo who have helped in overseeing the work. The Upasika gatherings continue to be very popular. Ven. Kusalo's work with kids, schools and R.E. teachers is going well; he is building a network of interested lay friends to help with school visits and related activities. Most of the retreats organised by Jenna and Barry at the retreat centre are fully booked, and the Saturday afternoon meditation workshops continue to be much appreciated by lay practitioners.
Amaravati's mix of lay residents and male and female monastics is an interesting exercise in community living. Gradually, skillful ways of working together while still allowing space for the expression of individual temperaments are evolving. The samaneras and bhikkhus meet once a week, alternating 'business' meetings, and 'heart ' meetings where we try to get to know how individuals are doing in their practice and assess any issues of community dynamics.
A schedule that works well at Amaravati is to have a nine-day quiet period each month, from the full moon Uposatha until the day after the following Observance Day. Vinaya study has been in groups for those new to the training and those with more experience. Ajahn Assaji shared his impressive knowledge of the Pali texts by offering classes in Pali and the Suttas. Luang Por has been very generous with his time guiding individual members of the Sangha, participating in group meetings and offering his timeless reflections on non-attachment.
The Devon Vihara:
The community has been alternating between periods of retreat and activity. We have now completed five kutis [small huts for private retreat] and this has enhanced our enjoyment of the summer months. The last few weeks have been spent transforming a large and unpleasant caravan into a much more pleasant place of abiding for our guests.
The use of community life as a way of developing honesty, patience and tolerance has been a prevalent theme for us. We've tried to provide occasion for feelings to be aired within an allowing atmosphere and to provide support for each other as best we can; seeing our life here as an opportunity for increasing trust. This theme seems crucial in the cultivation of our meditation practice.
Santacittarama Monastery (Italy):
The search for a new property continues. Having eventually decided against the property near Tivoli, (being so close to a river, permission to build further would have been difficult to obtain), we have been putting a lot of effort into finding something more suitable.
Although we are only three, we do not have a language in common. I have occasional bursts of trying to learn Thai; Tan Jutindharo has started to learn Italian, and Amara attempts to speak English every now and again. However we manage to live together in reasonable harmony and the lay community continue to provide support and to find sustenance from the Sangha's presence.
Wat Pah Nanachat (Thailand):
In addition to the daily Vinaya readings, there were weekly Sangha gatherings to bring up and consider different aspects of Sangha life. Ajahn Pasanno gave instruction in the practice, using the Anapanasati Sutta as a basis. Following his departure (after fifteen years as abbot) at the end of the year to help Ajahn Amaro in California, Ajahn Jayasaro will take over the leadership of the community. Before then there will be a meeting of all the Western monks in Thailand associated with the Ajahn Chah lineage.
Dtow Dum (Thailand):
Three monks spent the vassa in this area of pristine forest by the border of Burma. The heavy rains caused flooding, so that the monastery and nearyby village were completely cut off; supplies of food had to be flown in by helicopter. Earlier in the year a large group of monks and novices had spent the greater part of the hot season there - a welcome escape from the heat of Ubon Province.
Poo Jorm Gorm (Thailand):
Apart from one meeting per week for Patimokkha or discussion on meditation practice, the four monks who spent the vassa here practised in solitude.
Wat Pah Sunnatavanarama (Thailand):
Ajahn Gavesako's efforts in setting up the monastery are bearing fruit. There is now a new sala, kitchen, toilets/showers and quarters for lay guests. The many trees which have been planted are flourishing. An abundant water source has finally been found. The vassa was harmonious and ended with a nine day retreat, which about 40 lay people participated in.
Abhayagiri Monastery (USA):
We began the rains retreat by celebrating Asalha Puja at Spirit Rock. The almsgiving that marked its ending was also held there, thanks to the kindness of Jack Kornfield and the staff in allowing us to use this spacious and conveniently located centre.
The resident community has been living in the 250 acre forest, mostly in tents.The small house has served as our shrine room, eating hall, kitchen, office, bath-house and male guest accommodation, although most male and female guests stayed in tents in their respective camping areas. It became apparent early on that greatest constraint on the community would be winter accommodation and facilities, so most of our physical energy has been focused on construction of kutis. So far three have been completed, mostly by a very vigorous and gifted neighbour. We aim to complete five before the winter retreat in February.
The other major construction project has been the new Dhamma Hall. Assisted by an amorphous crew of local and imported visitors, a dark cluttered garage has been transformed into an airy meditation space; it still needs finishing touches before the Buddha rupa arrives from Thailand - otherwise it is all done. Also, we now have four little caravans (or 'trailers'), so all seems to be well set for the winter rains.
We maintained a routine of Saturday and Observance night vigils and Dhamma talks, and also Vinaya instruction. Ajahn Amaro led day-long retreats at Spirit Rock and Green Gulch Zen Center, and gave teachings at monthly meetings in San Francisco and elsewhere. Throughout, there have been many visitors from both East and West Coasts. Ajahn Maha Prasert (a native of Roi-et) visited; he generously mobilised the supporters of his monastery in Fremont to help provide one of the caravans. A dozen or so teenagers from the Spirit Rock family programme also came, injecting a dose of youthful energy into the community one weekend.
A high point of the Vassa was an unexpected visit from Luang Por Sumedho during a whirlwind trip to San Francisco for the 'State of the World' conference. We were very grateful that he managed to squeeze in a night's stay, to bless this new venture and to share some informal time meeting with the community. Several other monastic visitors have passed through, including Ajahns Sucitto, Jayasaro and Kalyano before the Rains, and Sr Thanasanti, who came to help lead a retreat in November. Ajahn Pasanno is due to arrive on New Year's Eve to take up residency here.
Despite all the activity that has been necessitated for the humans, the great forest has continually exerted a calming and expansive presence. The months have been punctuated by forays into the dense woods and along the ridge-path around its perimeter. We have noted the transition from 107F summer afternoons, to goldening leaves, rain and an autumnal nip in the air. Bears have been sighted (and smelled), rattlesnakes and numerous foxes, bob-cats, does with fawns, wild turkey and quail families, racoons and skunks have shown their presence - often with thumps and rustlings in the dark, convincing one that 'something very large and hungry is only one layer of thin cloth away...' But such is the midnight feast of Dhamma for the Samana.
This has been a significant year for the community at Ratanagiri in may ways. We had to vacate our Guest Cottage at the beginning of 1996, and since then our guest accommodation has been limited to two small caravans and one room in the Vihara; for most of the time this has proved adequate. The current absence of any major building projects has allowed the resident community to take advantage of a less busy routine. And on the 11th of August the first ordination ceremony to be held at Ratanagiri was conducted by Ajahn Munindo, when Anagarika Axel became Samanera Revato.
We look forward to welcoming one new anagarika and one samanera to the community in time for the Winter Retreat. With the snows of winter already upon us, the focus now draws more inward.
News from the Nuns' Community:
With 3 anagarikas going forth and 2 siladharas returning after supporting their families in time of crisis, the Order of Siladharas feels a little less tiny. Also we expect Ajahn Sundara back in the spring time, and Sister Upekkha will have completed her sabbatical in July. These developments, together with the fact that there are now three elder nuns (over 10 vassas) and a number of others with 5 - 10 vassas, have provided the confidence for us to evolve in a new direction.
Earlier this year it was proposed that some nuns and anagarikaas occupy the Devon Vihara for two years, while Ajahn Subbato and the other resident bhikkhus spend time away. The idea of a community of nuns living apart from bhikkhus has been spoken about on a number of occasions by Ajahn Sumedho and other Sangha members; within the Order of Siladharas there is also much interest. So, with the approval of the Elders' Council, we have decided to take up this invitation. Ajahn Siripanna will lead the community of siladharas and anagarikaas there, while groups of nuns will continue to reside at both Cittaviveka and Amaravati.