Forest SanghaNewsletter
April 1998

Spiritual Friendship; Ajahn Amaro
Regret and Well Being; Ajahn Munindo
The Joy Hidden in Sorrow; Sister Medhanandi
Commitment to Practice in a Non Monastic Environment;Ajahn Santacitto
New Year in Italy; Ajahn Sucitto
Lessons in Living; Ajahn Candasiri
Signs of Change:



Cittaviveka - Chithurst Monastery
Summer time at Cittaviveka is an especially lovely season, one in which mostof the community will be taking up the possibility of going on retreat in theHammer Wood for periods of time. It has become a part of the normal routineof the monastery, outside of the extended summer and winter retreats, for allof us in turn to spend our early mornings and evenings and free days in theforest, using the meditation kutis that nestle under the canopy of leaves.Long evenings with birds and forest animals moving through the dusk; theslanting shafts of light through the tall trees; the sense of attention thata responsive and uncluttered environment afford: all these are wonderfulassets for a contemplative. Spending more time there makes one realise what avery rare treasure Cittaviveka is, and brings up the wish to serve it for thebenefits it can bring to many beings.

Quite recently, a few tentative sightings have been confirmed by aspecialist as evidence that Hammer Pond has, and is, being used by otters asa breeding ground. This is very good news. The otter was deemed to be on theverge of extinction in southern England a decade or so ago, and although itis now on the increase again, our specialist friend (who has been 'workingfor otters' for twenty years) informs us that Hammer Pond is the only knownbreeding site for otters in the region between Southampton and Kent. So itbecomes vital to preserve the habitat, which, although unpolluted, is not initself so rare as the fact that the Pond is not disturbed by boats, dogs orpeople. It is significant in our context to note that the really unusualfeature of Hammer Pond is the presence of the stillness that a Buddhistmonastery can bring.

Nevertheless, in ways that try to avoid intrusion on animals'breeding times and territories, a steady amount of work on restoring thenatural environment of the wood and pond continues to get done. Some of thework that the Forest Managers, the Sangha and its impromptu volunteer labourforce are undertaking this year has been the creation of otter residences andan island for nesting water fowl; otherwise there is the ongoing job of treecare. It is also likely that some small areas of heath a natural feature ofthe sandy soiled upland areas of the Hammer Wood will be established tocreate habitat for butterflies and birds such as nightjars. Also, the pondwill need to be dredged within the next few years otherwise it will turn intoa muddy swamp. Meanwhile the last of our 'nesting features for humans' willbe constructed this summer in the shape of a meditation kuti, and not toosoon either, as the summer months bring about a sharp increase in thepopulation of brown robed samanas at Cittaviveka.

It's likely that there will be four more bhikkhus in residence toaugment our current number of six, which along with three siladhara, twosamaneras 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 bea much tried and generous supporter, Mr Tann Nam from Cambodia. This year ishis sixtieth, and he has been in Britain since 1973 when Pol Pot's regimetook over in Cambodia, and throughout this time he has been supporting theSangha here with tremendous faith and stamina. After the Vassa, he isintending to visit Cambodia again for the first time since he left: as abhikkhu this time accompanying Ajahn Sumedho and Ajahn Karuniko. It feelsvery wise to undertake such an evocative 'homecoming' within the supportiveenvironment of the bhikkhu training, and quite a source of happiness for ushere to feel we can be help in some way to encourage the re growth ofBuddhism in Cambodia.

Meanwhile, people in Britain are becoming increasingly familiar withand supportive of the samana lifestyle. Another normal feature of themonasteries' routines is for two samanas to go twice a week to the nearbytowns for alms faring on the streets, receiving spontaneous gifts of foodwhich then comprise their daily meal. Both this year and the last, Sanghamembers have extended this practice into the long distance tudong walks of acouple of weeks or so, again living by means of spontaneous food offeringsfrom 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 migrationswill begin. As I have mentioned earlier, Ajahn Karuniko will be accompanyingLuang Por to Cambodia, and then Thailand between December and February. Theother familiar resident who will be flying East will be Ajahn Candasiri, whointends to spend the four months or so after the Kathina undertaking apilgrimage with a lay woman to the Buddhist holy places of India. We verymuch hope and expect them to return. For those of you who would like to wishthem well before they leave, the Kathina on October 19th would be a very goodoccasion.
Ajahn Sucitto

Harnham - Ratanagiri Monastery
As the Magga Bhavaka Trust launches an appeal for funds for the protectionand further development of the monastery, Ajahn Munindo reflects on thesituation. Below are some extracts from his letter in the Spring issue ofHilltop:

...'With regard to what is happening here at this time on the hill, Iwould encourage each of us to ask of ourselves, how do we 'hold' thisproject. We could be getting energy from a naive hope that we will getexactly what we want, and then 'I' will be happy. This is the characteristicof fundamentalism. Or, alternatively, we could be afraid to really wantanything at all, because 'wanting' is the cause of suffering and I alreadyhave enough of that, thank you very much!' This is a pitfall for a lot ofdepressed Buddhists.

'There is also, thankfully, the consideration of the Middle Way. Thisencourages a quality of effort that gives rise to a non judgemental awarenessthat neither pushes nor pulls, accepts nor rejects, but simply receives and'sees'. This is cultivating the attitude of heart that has the capacity tobear with what is. And it in this heart we find the compassion andunderstanding that we are aspiring towards.

...'Regarding our effort to protect and enhance this place ofsanctuary at Harnham, yes, we do care. But we don't have to have it happenhow we want it. Ever since I came to Harnham I have felt that, from oneperspective, the finished monastery already exists. My job is to simply servethe 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 hasbeen 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 thisopportunity to reflect on these matters with you, and to wish you all well inyour personal practice and collective effort to generate increased well beingfor all.'

Devon - Hartridge Monastery
Just after midnight on the full moon uposatha of June, three siladhara andone anagarika arrived at Hartridge Buddhist Monastery in Devon to take up anextended period of residence there. With quiet ceremony and well-wishing, therelics 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 fromAmaravati 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 moveaway from the relative stability of monastic life into the unknown. Apartfrom one dana on the first day, no other arrangements or contacts were madebeforehand, preferring to go in faith and take each day as it can. That veryuncertainty is in itself a form of austerity, requiring constant vigilance inorder to respond skilfully to the ever changing conditions and circumstance.In addition, physical pain, poor weather conditions and the challenge ofharmonising with one another (together continuously, 24 hours a day for fiveweeks) formed the context and opportunity for practice.

Wherever possible the nuns went for alms in the larger villages andtowns on the way, and were most heartened by the kindly interest andoverwhelming generosity shown towards them on the journey.

Now the sisters are settling into their new abode; gradually sortingthings out and becoming acquainted with local friends and supporters of themonastery... ...'The journey is not finished though - only now we don't strapon the rucksack and change location, but attempt to maintain the spirit of'tudong': of not getting stuck in one place, of not struggling with somethingthat is bound to change, cultivating the heart of faith and the power ofrenunciation; to keep seeing that the only true stability is non-attachment.'

Gambhira: 1906-1997
On 1st April, Gambhira (Muriel Clark) peacefully passed away in a nursinghome, where she had been living for four years. Previous to that she hadstayed for five years at Amaravati until her level of incapacity made itimpossible for the community to provide the care she needed.

Formerly a person of considerable intellectual ability andpenetrating wit, in her old age she became quite unable to sustain any kindof logical thought process or conversation. However, those who visited herwould often comment on her sense of inner ease and happiness, and herimmediate response to human warmth and friendliness. Ajahn Sumedho and otherSangha members and friends took part in her funeral service and subsequentlyGambhira's ashes were scattered in the Buddha Grove at Amaravati.