SIGNS OF CHANGE
A family day out?
I've just returned from something billed as a Buddhist Festival. Bright yellow signs with an unmistakable outline of the seated Buddha, and bobbing balloons led the way along the A272 inviting everyone to take part. Unlike Wesak or Kathina this took place at the Hamilton Arms in Stedham - a pub with a difference. Here lives Mudita, who certainly knows how to combine the religious life with joyful living in the world.
Like an English village Fete this had stalls at which one could buy all manner of things, food and drink, and an arena for entertainment, but the flavour was definitely international. Alongside the beefburgers were Thai delicacies freshly cooked in the rows of hot woks. As well as Morris dancing there was classical Thai ballet and music on the kora. One could relax with Shiatsu massage and Reiki treatment, colour in a giant piece of art work, or sponsor a master knitter for the number of rows completed in half an hour.
How was it Buddhist? Mainly because many of the people attending had heard of the occasion through Buddhist meeting places. This was an opportunity for Buddhists of all styles of practice to come together and enjoy each others company, delighting in the opportunity of giving something to each other. Mudita commented that this chance to develop harmony between us all was just as important as the substantial material benefit from the sale of food and raffle tickets and donations. Certainly the presence of a Chithurst monk gave a very special feeling to the event and there was a steady flow of people under the canopy to talk with him. We were also able to see the plans for rebuilding the coach house alongside the beautiful photographs Angela took of the existing rooms at Cittaviveka. The organising group made donations from the proceeds to Cittaviveka and to build two rooms for a group of Tibetan nuns living in arduous conditions in exile in Derha dun.
I could have come home with a bag of all kinds of goodies, including Cambodian silk, soothing aloe vera, a Dhamma school T-shirt or a prize air ticket to Calcutta. What I actually brought home was a tummy full of strawberries and cream, a plant to grow in my garden and a heart nourished by the company and energy of many people having a good time in a really happy atmosphere.
Mudita wrote on the handbills "First Annual Fete" (my emboldening, not hers!). There is confidence for you. It was planned to be a success and it was. After all the rain we had during June and July the sun shone out for us and the marquees and canopies that might have been sheltering us from the rain offered shade from the heat. What is it they say about good works and good kamma?
So many said that they will come back next year I suspect the car park as well as the lawn will be brimming full of activity. Put on your thinking caps now. Lets tap all the talent in the community and share it together. We're lucky to have such a lovely opportunity to offer support to that which supports us in our spiritual practice, in a way that allows us all to meet together in this joyful manner.
Over the years we have said goodbye to a number people of who have spent varying amounts of time as monks and nuns with the Sangha here in England. At first we were taken aback, perhaps subconsciously because of our European tradition of Christian monastics who make lifetime vows, and I know that I recognised in my mind that resistance to change that the Buddha referred to constantly in the teachings. "Oh no. He can't do that. Why? I didn't expect that. Can't we fix it so she stays? Were some of the thoughts that sprung readily to mind in the early days.
Now I detect less shock and more sadness when someone leaves the robes, more like saying goodbye to a good friend who is travelling abroad for a season. The way that the order of monks and nuns has been set up by the Buddha is that the determination to practice the mendicants life is for a set period only - a vassa, or previously discussed period with the preceptor. I remember listening to an Ajahn's talk in which he said that he joined up in Thailand for a period of three months and he's still doing it (twenty years later)! Some may enter with a much longer term view but still have the opportunity to review it "in the moment". Is this not the teaching?
If we find the adjustment a little disturbing, we can imagine what a major adjustment it is for the samana concerned. Deciding to leave requires such a lot of reflection and reformation that there must be very little energy left for practical matters like finding appropriate clothing. When a reasonable period of notice is given then lay supporters are able to come forward with offers of accommodation, cash, or the necessary baggage of life in the world: but sometimes the decision crystallises and craves action in an instant. The English Sangha Trust acting as stewards for the money donated to the monastery has responded by offering travel funds to all disrobing monks and nuns, and a capital sum for subsistence in the first few weeks to those that needed it.
What would be the most skilful way to support our friends as they go on their way? We realise that a lot more information, guidance and advice is needed about the availability of resources for people setting out on an independent life. The amount of financial help we can offer from monastery funds is so difficult to decide - is it ever enough to offer comfort, physical or emotional? Should there be a separate fund for support of disrobing or should it come from the general funds offered for the four requisites?
In Thailand the disrobing monks often go back to an extended family that will value their religious practice and support their material needs on return. They will often stay at the temple for a while after disrobing to give service to the community in gratitude for the teaching received and so have the opportunity to adjust and slip gradually into a householders life. This is obviously not Thailand and while we can learn some lessons from them we have to take into account European differences.
The lay Directors of the EST feel that feedback is necessary from those who offer their money to support the Sangha in this country. The desire to help our Sangha friends make a successful transition leads us into a minefield of hard financial decisions. Please drop a line or phone Medhina or Colin Ash with some response to our dilemma. What is a reasonable amount of financial assistance and from where does it come?
The Sangha community always offer hospitality for an ex-monastic to stay as a lay person with food and accommodation found during the period of adjustment. Should there be a half way house? a self-help group?
2 Kenmure Avenue,
Brighton BN1 8SH.
Woodthorpe, Manor Crescent,
Seer Green, Beaconsfield
HP 2QX (01494 671043)
Amaravati Temple Opening:
Here is an update on plans for the Opening of the Temple 2nd - 4th July 1999:
Plans are now developing to have three days of events. The first day the 2nd July will be an Intermonastic/ Interdenominational event, with friends from Buddhist, Christian and other faith communities, invited to take part in a sharing of friendship and blessings.
The second day the 3rd July we'll hold an Open Day for the local community. This is an occasion to give people from the locality a chance to see what we are doing. This will be for local villagers, businesses, dignitaries and officials, plus people involved with the construction work.
The third and final day will be Sunday the 4th July. This is the main Dedication Ceremony for all our supporters of Amaravati, where, amidst Paritta chanting, reflections and silence, the Luk Nimit - the great Marble Orb - will be lowered into its place in the centre of the Temple floor.
Invitations to people overseas have begun to be sent out. At Amaravati accommodation will be very squashed, with many Sangha and lay people staying in tents. Some people are already planning to stay in local bed-and-breakfasts. It would be helpful to know if there are any lay supporters living in the area, even as far away as London, who would be interested to offer space in their homes for friends from overseas to stay. Please contact Ajahn Attapemo at Amaravati.
STOP PRESS from Italy:
It is with great regret that we announce the untimely passing-away of Mrs. Natchari Thananan, on August 7th, 1998. During her several years in Rome as wife of the Thai Ambassador, Mr. Anurak Thananan, she dedicated herself wholeheartedly to the realisation of a suitable forest monastery for disciples of Tan Ajahn Chah and Tan Ajahn Sumedho in Italy. Despite many obstacles, not least of which was the leukaemia she bore as if it were a minor inconvenience, her dream came true just as she was to return to Bangkok at the time of her husband's retirement.
With sincere gratitude we recognise that, without her relentless energy and enthusiasm, the new Santacittarama could not have come about. In a recent letter she expressed her happiness and gratification that her dream had been fulfilled, and appreciation for the many messages she had received wishing her well. We hope that the sadness of her passing may, at least in part, be offset by the joyous memory of her good deeds. In the final act of a truly generous heart she requested that, instead of offering flowers at her funeral, donations be made to a children's charity.
Our kind thoughts and heartfelt condolences go to Mr. Thananan, his children, family and friends.
A special remembrance for Khun Natchari will take place, at Santacittarama, during the Kathina ceremony on October 18th.