SIGNS OF CHANGE
Cittaviveka - Chithurst Monastery
Summer time at Cittaviveka is an especially lovely season, one in which most of the community will be taking up the possibility of going on retreat in the Hammer Wood for periods of time. It has become a part of the normal routine of the monastery, outside of the extended summer and winter retreats, for all of us in turn to spend our early mornings and evenings and free days in the forest, using the meditation kutis that nestle under the canopy of leaves. Long evenings with birds and forest animals moving through the dusk; the slanting shafts of light through the tall trees; the sense of attention that a responsive and uncluttered environment afford: all these are wonderful assets for a contemplative. Spending more time there makes one realise what a very rare treasure Cittaviveka is, and brings up the wish to serve it for the benefits it can bring to many beings.
Quite recently, a few tentative sightings have been confirmed by a specialist as evidence that Hammer Pond has, and is, being used by otters as a breeding ground. This is very good news. The otter was deemed to be on the verge of extinction in southern England a decade or so ago, and although it is now on the increase again, our specialist friend (who has been 'working for otters' for twenty years) informs us that Hammer Pond is the only known breeding site for otters in the region between Southampton and Kent. So it becomes vital to preserve the habitat, which, although unpolluted, is not in itself so rare as the fact that the Pond is not disturbed by boats, dogs or people. It is significant in our context to note that the really unusual feature of Hammer Pond is the presence of the stillness that a Buddhist monastery can bring.
Nevertheless, in ways that try to avoid intrusion on animals' breeding times and territories, a steady amount of work on restoring the natural environment of the wood and pond continues to get done. Some of the work that the Forest Managers, the Sangha and its impromptu volunteer labour force are undertaking this year has been the creation of otter residences and an island for nesting water fowl; otherwise there is the ongoing job of tree care. It is also likely that some small areas of heath a natural feature of the sandy soiled upland areas of the Hammer Wood will be established to create habitat for butterflies and birds such as nightjars. Also, the pond will need to be dredged within the next few years otherwise it will turn into a muddy swamp. Meanwhile the last of our 'nesting features for humans' will be constructed this summer in the shape of a meditation kuti, and not too soon either, as the summer months bring about a sharp increase in the population of brown robed samanas at Cittaviveka.
It's likely that there will be four more bhikkhus in residence to augment our current number of six, which along with three siladhara, two samaneras and six male and female anagarikas makes up a tidy number of 21. One of the men who will be spending his first Vassa as a bhikkhu here will be a much tried and generous supporter, Mr Tann Nam from Cambodia. This year is his sixtieth, and he has been in Britain since 1973 when Pol Pot's regime took over in Cambodia, and throughout this time he has been supporting the Sangha here with tremendous faith and stamina. After the Vassa, he is intending to visit Cambodia again for the first time since he left: as a bhikkhu this time accompanying Ajahn Sumedho and Ajahn Karuniko. It feels very wise to undertake such an evocative 'homecoming' within the supportive environment of the bhikkhu training, and quite a source of happiness for us here to feel we can be help in some way to encourage the re growth of Buddhism in Cambodia.
Meanwhile, people in Britain are becoming increasingly familiar with and supportive of the samana lifestyle. Another normal feature of the monasteries' routines is for two samanas to go twice a week to the nearby towns for alms faring on the streets, receiving spontaneous gifts of food which then comprise their daily meal. Both this year and the last, Sangha members have extended this practice into the long distance tudong walks of a couple of weeks or so, again living by means of spontaneous food offerings from towns and villages. No casualties other than blistered feet so far.
Change is a predominant feature of both woodland and monastic life, and as the leaves turn brown and fall later this year, the samana migrations will begin. As I have mentioned earlier, Ajahn Karuniko will be accompanying Luang Por to Cambodia, and then Thailand between December and February. The other familiar resident who will be flying East will be Ajahn Candasiri, who intends to spend the four months or so after the Kathina undertaking a pilgrimage with a lay woman to the Buddhist holy places of India. We very much hope and expect them to return. For those of you who would like to wish them well before they leave, the Kathina on October 19th would be a very good occasion.
Harnham - Ratanagiri Monastery
As the Magga Bhavaka Trust launches an appeal for funds for the protection and further development of the monastery, Ajahn Munindo reflects on the situation. Below are some extracts from his letter in the Spring issue of Hilltop:
...'With regard to what is happening here at this time on the hill, I would encourage each of us to ask of ourselves, how do we 'hold' this project. We could be getting energy from a naive hope that we will get exactly what we want, and then 'I' will be happy. This is the characteristic of fundamentalism. Or, alternatively, we could be afraid to really want anything at all, because 'wanting' is the cause of suffering and I already have enough of that, thank you very much!' This is a pitfall for a lot of depressed Buddhists.
'There is also, thankfully, the consideration of the Middle Way. This encourages a quality of effort that gives rise to a non judgemental awareness that neither pushes nor pulls, accepts nor rejects, but simply receives and 'sees'. This is cultivating the attitude of heart that has the capacity to bear with what is. And it in this heart we find the compassion and understanding that we are aspiring towards.
...'Regarding our effort to protect and enhance this place of sanctuary at Harnham, yes, we do care. But we don't have to have it happen how we want it. Ever since I came to Harnham I have felt that, from one perspective, the finished monastery already exists. My job is to simply serve the growing and this requires considerable agility and sensitivity. However, this kind of attention results in a rewarding familiarity with a way of 'according with' changing conditions. Definitely some of the changing has been hard but there has been, and there is now much that is inviting.
...'So as this year of 1997 moves on, I am glad to have this opportunity to reflect on these matters with you, and to wish you all well in your personal practice and collective effort to generate increased well being for all.'
Devon - Hartridge Monastery
Just after midnight on the full moon uposatha of June, three siladhara and one anagarika arrived at Hartridge Buddhist Monastery in Devon to take up an extended period of residence there. With quiet ceremony and well-wishing, the relics were handed over by the one remaining monk there before his departure, leaving the sisters to settle in and to settle down after a long journey from Amaravati to the West Country.
The nuns had decided to make the journey from Amaravati on foot, using the weeks of walking to prepare themselves for the time ahead. Tudong (from Dhutanga, meaning to 'shake off the defilements') is a chance to move away from the relative stability of monastic life into the unknown. Apart from one dana on the first day, no other arrangements or contacts were made beforehand, preferring to go in faith and take each day as it can. That very uncertainty is in itself a form of austerity, requiring constant vigilance in order to respond skilfully to the ever changing conditions and circumstance. In addition, physical pain, poor weather conditions and the challenge of harmonising with one another (together continuously, 24 hours a day for five weeks) formed the context and opportunity for practice.
Wherever possible the nuns went for alms in the larger villages and towns on the way, and were most heartened by the kindly interest and overwhelming generosity shown towards them on the journey.
Now the sisters are settling into their new abode; gradually sorting things out and becoming acquainted with local friends and supporters of the monastery... ...'The journey is not finished though - only now we don't strap on the rucksack and change location, but attempt to maintain the spirit of 'tudong': of not getting stuck in one place, of not struggling with something that is bound to change, cultivating the heart of faith and the power of renunciation; to keep seeing that the only true stability is non-attachment.'
On 1st April, Gambhira (Muriel Clark) peacefully passed away in a nursing home, where she had been living for four years. Previous to that she had stayed for five years at Amaravati until her level of incapacity made it impossible for the community to provide the care she needed.
Formerly a person of considerable intellectual ability and penetrating wit, in her old age she became quite unable to sustain any kind of logical thought process or conversation. However, those who visited her would often comment on her sense of inner ease and happiness, and her immediate response to human warmth and friendliness. Ajahn Sumedho and other Sangha members and friends took part in her funeral service and subsequently Gambhira's ashes were scattered in the Buddha Grove at Amaravati.