SIGNS OF CHANGE
Santacittarama moves to Poggio
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!
Signs of Change in Canada
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.
Box2 RR7, Thunder Bay, Ontario P7C 5V5;
• Birken Forest Monastery,
B.C. VOX 1WO, Canada;