SIGNS OF CHANGE
This year's Magha Puja gathering took place at the end of March, with members of the Western monastic communities in England, Switzerland and Italy - even Ajahn Amaro from America - gathered at Amaravati for ten days of meetings, workshops and meditation. Unfortunately we were not able to use the new temple because there were some technical difficulties around the laying of the floor tiles and the job was not completed in time.
Over the next months some of the Sangha members will be traveling:
Ajahn Sumedho will be staying at Amaravati until November when he will go to Cambodia and possibly Thailand.
Ajahn Viradhammo, accompanied by Nick Scott will be undertaking a tudong in his native Latvia, leaving on 10th May and returning just in time for the Upasampada on 13th July.
Ajahn Attapemo will be visiting his family in the States for a month in June and early July.
Ajahn Subbato will be leaving the Devon Vihara in the care of the nuns community for two years, while he goes to New Zealand to visit his family and to look after the monastery there allowing Ajahn Vajiro to have an extended period of time away.
We have also received news that Ajahn Pasanno has arrived safely in California and is well settled in at Abhayagiri, where he will be sharing the senior incumbency with Ajahn Amaro.
Venerable Abhinnano (the main newsletter illustrator) will be returning to Thailand in April.
Ajahn (Sister) Sundara is presently practicing in Thailand and has received the blessing of the Sangha to continue her stay there for an indefinite period.
Sister Upekkha will return to Amaravati in August for the second vassa.
Ajahn Siripanna, together with Sisters Jitindriya and Uttama and Anagarika Joanne will be setting off on foot from Amaravati on 1st May, planning to arrive in Devon in time to take over the incumbency of the vihara, now known as Hartridge Buddhist Monastery, on 4th June.
Over the past couple of years the samanera (ten precept novice) ordination has been introduced for men, as an intermediary stage of training prior to upasampada. This has no doubt caused some confusion for people visiting the monasteries in England since samaneras wear the same robe as bhikkhus but are in effect junior to the siladhara (nuns), who go before them in seating and the collection of almsfood. They also sometimes take on responsibilities in kitchen management, that would not be undertaken by bhikkhus.
Thanissara & Kittisaro
Kittisaro & Thanissara are presently resident teachers at the Buddhist Retreat Centre near Ixopo, South Africa. This 300 acre centre is beautifully situated in the rolling hills of Kwazulu Natal. It was originally established by Louis & Molly Van Loon and over the last 20 years has supported a growing interest in Buddhism & meditation. While the main ethos of the centre is one of contemplation within a semi-monastic environment, it also explores the way Buddhism, as a culture, can offer a meaningful reflection within our modern life.
Originally both Kittisaro & Thanissara were deeply influenced in their practice of Buddhism through meeting Ajahn Chah. In 1976 Kittisaro left a Rhodes scholarship at Oxford to travel to Thailand to practice at Wat Pah Pong and other branch monasteries in N.E. Thailand. He was ordained with Ajahn Chah and stayed as a monk for 15 years, primarily under the guidance of Ajahn Sumedho. During that time he helped establish the Chithurst & Devon monasteries.
Thanissara met Ajahn Chah in 1977 and travelled to Thailand with the interest in taking the robes, she later was ordained in 1979 at Chithurst and spent 12 years as a nun under the guidance of Ajahn Sumedho. During that time she helped in the early years of Chithurst & Amaravati as well as the early development of the Nuns' Sangha.
Presently Kittisaro & Thanissara are interested in supporting a practice within lay life which can be informed by monasticism and yet meet the demands of modern life. They feel deeply connected to the Buddha's way, and find much joy and challenge in continuing to investigate the teaching and its resonance into all aspects of life. Each year they spend 8 months in South Africa and four months teaching and travelling in Europe and the States.
A Farewell From Ajahn Sobhano
Three bhikkhus - Ajahn Sobhano, Venerables Sunnato and Tissaro - have made the decision to return to lay life; we wish them well.
Ajahn Sobhano writes:
My time in the Sangha has been an invaluable experience that has changed my life beyond recognition. Having joined at the relatively young age of 22, the Sangha provided a family of spiritual friends and leaders that was sorely missing from my mis-spent youth. I never expected or anticipated becoming a monk or to end up playing such a vital part in the community affairs so quickly. With so many recent disrobings of senior Ajahns it was somewhat perplexing to find myself in such a senior position after only ten vassas.
In the last two or three years I was finding myself drawn more towards socially engaged activities which seemed to be leading me away from the monk's life. Spending time outside of the community in Ireland for the past four months gave me an opportunity to reflect on whether I really wanted to continue living as a bhikkhu. This led me to the point where it seemed that the natural next step was to pick up the challenge of returning to lay life.
I very much hope to be able to carry on working in areas where my Dhamma training will be of service to the community. I plan to look for work in the 'voluntary sector' which would include exploring training possibilities in the fields of counselling and facilitation. It is my hope that I will continue to benefit from my association with the Sangha and perhaps even feed back whatever I learn on the 'outside' in to the ordained community as part of the Fourfold Sangha's ongoing evolution in the West.
My heartfelt gratitude goes out to all my spiritual mentors and guides who have borne with my wayward tendencies all these years and to all the loving and devoted lay-supporters without whom none of this would have been possible.
May all beings realise Nibbana.
Dharma School Update
The Dharma School has almost completed its first three academic years. Those first years were the pioneering stage and now the school is moving into a new phase of development.
Geographically we started in one room of a house in central Brighton and now occupy a large detached house on the outskirts, near the South Downs. It is stunningly beautiful, and has been given a new coat of paint, but it is an almost overwhelming responsibility to renovate the 1930s building and soon to replace the roof.
The pupil numbers have grown from the original four to twenty seven last October. Originally they were all five years old but now we have children up to the age of eleven who have transferred from state schools to take advantage of this small nurturing style of education. Inevitably pupils are also leaving us - some to travel abroad, some for financial reasons, some because parents' dreams were not met, and, for the first time two will be moving on to secondary education in local comprehensives. We wish them all well.
There are changes too in the staff. We have launched the school with professional teachers who were willing and able to work for very little pay for a while. They have been supported by volunteer teachers who have given anything from an hour to three days a week of their time. Some of these are now leaving for several different reasons. New staff are being sought to move forward next year and we currently have three promising applicants with funding for low wages until December 1997.
Change is inevitable and uncomfortable but it can be a beautiful butterfly that emerges from an unusual looking chrysalis. The Dharma school must now reassess its financial underpinning – charging small fees and hoping for charitable donations is falling short of the practical needs of the school. It must also reflect on the dream of 'Buddhist Education', finding the middle way between the thrusting 'aim for the stars' approach, and the laid back 'all you need is love' approach.
The school is launched, and it now has to weather the storms and calms of life's sea to make its contribution to those young lives entrusted to its care.