Forest Sangha Newsletter
April 1998

Self-naughting; Aj Sumedho
Discernment v's Self-Deception; Upasika Kee Nanayon
Meditation Class; Aj Sucitto
Dhammma Refugee ; Ajahn Viradhammo
Pilgrim's Way: the Place of the Buddha; Ajahn Candasiri

Signs of Change:



Santacittarama moves to Poggio Nativo
    Santacittarama's move to a new site has come at an opportune time: Ven. Abhinando arrived from Cittaviveka in December, we have two anagarikas; and a Japanese bhikkhu, Ven. Aki Pannavuddho, will be arriving from Thailand in spring to bring our resident community up to eight. The main house is quite comfortable, the central heating is rather ancient - but at least it works. The small house can accommodate seven or eight guests at a pinch. We have some lovely spots for kutis (we have brought two up from Sezze), and we are thinking of buying a second-hand caravan to increase our accommodation.
    The monastery land is delightful and we are still exploring it. At one end of the property there is a group of three caves, two of which are high enough to stand up in and perhaps 8-10 metres deep. A discreet path then runs along the stream through the predominantly oak woodland about half a kilometre to the ruin near the other end of the property. There is a hidden ruin among the trees which was said to have been a staging post for changing horses when the old 'salt road' (via Salaria) passed nearby. They probably kept the horses below and the people stayed upstairs. It is a very attractive and secluded spot with trees growing in, through, and out of the stone walls. We think it would make a very nice 'meditation garden', with the sun filtering through in the winter, and the trees providing a pleasant shade in the summer.
    It is possible to continue walking beyond our property until reaching the road that leads to the small town of Poggio Nativo, or to a derelict cemetery, where one can easily peer into ill-kept tombs to see human skeletons. What more could a forest monastery ask for - trees, caves, and a nearby abandoned cemetery! We are still in Italy however, and the lack of concern for the environment manifests itself in the polluted stream and the piles of festering rubbish dumped in any convenient place. We are gradually trying to clean up the area. The neighbours seem very friendly. Our closest neighbour is a farmer who very kindly towed our truck out of the mud when it got stuck the first time that we came. Since then he has been to visit several times, bringing offerings of his own produce - a four kilo sheep's cheese, eggs, honey, vegetables and olive oil. He really seems to have taken to us!

Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery
    The most memorable event of last summer at Abhayagiri was certainly the full moon day celebrations of July. First of all, during the afternoon, the programme of training for the Upasika community was launched. It was a small beginning, with an initial twelve people making the commitment, but with many other friends and supporters looking on. During the evening, after the Upasika Precept ceremony, we held two Eight Precept ordinations and then the Ten Novice Precepts were given by Ajahn Pasanno who has been given the authority to confer bhikkhu ordination by the Thai Sangha, to the then Anagarika Tom. Tom now bears the name Samanera Karunadhammo, and we expect to give him bhikkhu ordination at Wesak this year.
    As the senior monks and nuns in Britain have felt it unsuitable for women to undertake training in a situation where there are no resident nuns, we have decided to create the opportunity for women to take on a temporary ordination, for stays of up to three or four months here. So far three women have taken up this option, with two of them subsequently going to join the nuns in England.
    As there were only three bhikkhus residing at Abhayagiri for the Rains we did not have the full-scale Kathina ceremony, holding an Alms-giving Ceremony instead. It was a joyous occasion, spread over two days - the Saturday being our third 'Upasika Day' and the Sunday the Almsgiving itself. About 75 people- including Ven. Sona from British Columbia and Ven. Punnadhammo from Thunder Bay - gathered for the event, which was the largest we have held here so far.
    Owing to a large number of generous donations from Thailand, in the Spring of this year we were able to pay off the entire loan which was taken out for the purchase of this property. This has enabled us to pursue the development of the land (250 acres of rugged forest) according to our current needs and work capacity. We now have five kutis and two geodesic dome tents for residents; also the sizeable garage has been converted into a Dhamma Hall until we can go ahead with a larger building. Otherwise as far as the improvements to the site have been concerned, last year was a fairly quiet one. We are still preparing all the paperwork, drawings and studies necessary for our 'Change of Use' application, and we have undertaken not to put up any new buildings until the 'Use Permit' is through.
    The major item to be resolved was the question of our water supply. The well that we use at the moment only produces one third to one-half a gallon a minute in the dry season: thus, with a population of 10-12 people, we had been regularly running out. During August things got so dire that we had to do an emergency installation of a 2,500 gallon holding tank, just to stop the water from dying on us during the washing up and when taking showers. We have now drilled a new well in the interior of the forest and it looks as though it will answer our problems for the forseeable future. We have also been investigating the re-institution of a pipeline from a spring to which we have the water rights (half a mile away).
    In a way it has been something of a blessing to be holding off on any major construction for now: this situation has afforded us the opportunity to finish off a lot of things which didn't quite get completed last year - such as decking and proper steps for the kutis -- as well as giving us the time to install good, level walking paths at all of the dwelling sites. It has also helpfully given us a considerable length of time to consider the most suitable ways of developing the land. More to the point it means that we have been able to have long retreats both during the Vassa and the winter, without ongoing projects to oversee.

Signs of Change in Canada
    In the past couple of years, there have been developments in Canada regarding forest bhikkhus of Ajahn Chah’s lineage.

  • Arrow River Community Centre is located in Northern Ontario, fifty miles southwest of Thunder Bay. We have 92 acres of land in a beautiful mixed forest. There are presently five all-weather dwelling places on the property as well as a meditation-hall and kitchen, and a well-equipped workshop.
        The resident bhikkhu is Ven. Punnadhammo, a Canadian, who began studying the Dhamma in 1979 under Kema Ananda. Kema Ananda was a student of Ven. Ananda Bodhi (later Namgyal Rinpoche); he had himself been ordained as a samanera (novice) but opted to disrobe and practise as a layman after one year in robes. He founded the Centre in 1975 and was the first teacher there. Kema was an expert in the Burmese Insight method of Mahasi Sayadaw and passed these teachings on to Ven. Punnadhammo who did a one-year solitary retreat as a layman at Arrow River in 1988-89. After this he went to Thailand and was ordained in Thailand in the forest tradition of Ajahn Chah in 1990. Between 1990 and 1995 he was based at Wat Pah Nanachat.
        In 1995 Kema Ananda contracted lung cancer and anticipating his imminent death he asked Ven. Punnadhammo to return to Canada and to assume management of the Centre. Ven. Punnadhammo returned with the blessing of his seniors in the Order in November of that year and was able to spend some time with his beloved teacher before his death.
        The Centre is now a monastery but it is our intention to continue the fine tradition established by Kema Ananda. We still offer the opportunity for serious students to pursue the practice of Dhamma in a quiet forest setting. We are ideally set-up for long-term retreats and welcome serious enquiries. From the beginning of the Arrow River Center, Kema Ananda emphasised the principle of not charging for the Dhamma and, although this policy has sometimes been difficult to maintain in the face of the financial reality, we have always adhered to it as guaranteeing the purity of the teaching. We will continue to honour this principle in the future and the Arrow River Center will operate with what is freely given.
        For the foreseeable future we will try to have two or three monks and two or three lay people staying here most of the time. More can stay in the summer months if they are willing to 'rough it'. Eventually we hope to build additional kutis as resources become available through donations. We currently require the ongoing presence of at least one lay person to act as monastery steward. This can be a rewarding experience for the right person.
  • • Arrow River Community Center
       Box2 RR7, Thunder Bay, Ontario P7C 5V5;
       Telephone 807-933-4434.
  • Birken Forest Monastery is situated in 18 acres of land in British Columbia, a few miles north-east of Princeton. It was opened in October of last year with two resident samanas -- Venerable Sona and Samanera Thitapuñño, the latter receiving novice ordination from Ajahn Pasanno on the opening day. Birken is a hermitage with some accommodation for lay guests, a library, weekly Dhamma talks and discussions and a strong commitment to formal meditation practice. Venerable Sona extends the invitation to drop in next time you’re in B.C.

  • • Birken Forest Monastery,
       General Delivery,
       B.C. VOX 1WO, Canada;
       phone/fax 250-295-3263.