Cittaviveka, New Year's Eve. The Shrine Room is packed, uncomfortably so for a meditation session. But it's OK. This evening particularly we're here to be together, as part of a gathering in which not many people know each other by name. But names aren't necessary for a sharing of what is both personal and universal: 'What, in summary, has 1998 been about for you?' The theme of the evening is a simple one, though it is unusual for the congregation to be speaking in an unprompted and spontaneous way. And partly the simplicity of the topic, partly the nature of the occasion, partly the ambience of the Shrine Room, bring up a steady series of reflections: of a loss of health and a debilitating illness; of taking a financial risk to establish Right Livelihood and being drawn into a massive overload of work; of counselling through two suicide attempts - one successful, one so far thwarted; of finding a level of equanimity and capacity to deal with a difficult job situation; of it being the best year of a young monk's life... No answers, no advice, no excuses. A range of snapshots, yet all of them opening a door of integrity.
A few days later there was another discussion following a Refuges and Precepts Ceremony, a discussion about the difficulties and the uplift of keeping the Precepts. The same door swings open. Perhaps such occasions are rare, and the more prevalent view of humanity is the media's photograph of glitz and atrocity; of corruption, depression and get-away-from-it-all fantasy. So it's good to wipe away that glibness, that judgement or cynicism, and it is a very fitting start for the Sangha's long retreat; perhaps a useful exercise for any meditation period. The world, although perilous can also be a rich and warm place when we recognise the integrity of the human being and the universality of suffering. Yes, there is the capacity to look at life squarely and strive towards its resolution.
During the first three months of 1999, the monasteries have been in seclusion and out of contact with each other, but I expect the scenario has been a shared one: people bringing offerings, people monitoring the offices and keeping things ticking over, people giving teachings, people nourishing others with food, people questioning themselves, calming, gladdening, and exerting the mind in this Dhamma and all the discipline that it requires. And for those of us who travel and teach, the perspective is truly global. When the attention is thus extended, what else can one feel but great thankfulness and encouragement to be part of what is 'beautiful in the beginning, beautiful in the middle, beautiful in the end'.
But of course its not always like that. Images of inspiration can also capsize: "I am not worthy of this," "I can't be like Ajahn So-and-so", "I can't meditate." I've known samanas, people living under the renunciate Precepts, who find the perceived experience of being unworthy so crippling that they want to disrobe - not because they don't want to practise the Dhamma, but because they can't handle comparing themselves to accomplished masters. The mind, the place of aspiration, kindness, and commitment (to name but a few) can be a barren and harsh place.
Quite a turn-around from the normal perspectives on samsara. But where exactly is that 'endless weary faring on'? Assembling a self in the flow of conditions is the great mistake. Whenever even the loveliest, most sincere commitment and practice is thus held, it goes sour; when even the poorest, bleakest, outlook is thus released, it shines. It is a simple point and fortunately, cultivation of awareness gives us the choice. Awareness has to be extended as well as refined; brought forth as well as polished.
And after any retreat is over, the perspective opens again. The monasteries will be offering the usual range of events and occasions to those who are interested. And the Dhamma will be travelling far and wide. But the list of countries that the teaching members of the Sangha visit is exceeded by the list of places that they are invited to, and even more by the number of situations where the Dhamma is practised. It may seem like a lot to do, or a source of conceit. But in awareness, it is a source of joy. At this rate, 'Global Warming' might not be such a bad thing.
Amaravati Temple Opening: July 1999
Preparations for the official opening of the Amaravati Temple and Cloister are now in progress. The festival period will be July 1 st - 7 th. The main events during this time will be an Open Afternoon, principally for the local community, on Saturday July 3rd and the day of the Opening itself on Sunday July 4th.
In the leaflet enclosed with this newsletter you will find information relating to these events. Please do read it.
We are still very interested to hear from you if you are able to offer your assistance before, during or after the festival. Consult the leaflet for details.
Please note that there will be no parking at the monastery on Sunday July 4th and no general access to the monastery on that day by way of St. Margarets Lane (the lane leading to the monastery). See the leaflet and the advice sheet for important information relating to car-parking. Please also note that, regrettably, seating space in the Temple for the Ceremony of Consecration itself will be extremely limited. It is for this reason that seating inside the Temple for the actual ceremony itself will be by invitation only.
News from Down Under:
Reports from both of the established monasteries of this lineage indicate that the Dhamma is quietly flourishing on the southern side of the planet.
Bodhinyana Monastery, in Western Australia is currently the residence of more than a dozen bhikkhus, along with samaneras and anagarikas. A steady rate of construction of kutis and facilities along with periods of retreat and solitude has brought the monastery to a state of near completion in terms of building. The aim is to keep the resident community no larger than twenty bhikkhus. Meanwhile, over 500 acres of land has been purchased nearby (in Australian terms) for the use of Theravada nuns.
Bodhinyanarama Monastery in New Zealand has also recently increased its property holding to provide spacious retreat potential. The community there is currently of four bhikkhus, one samanera and one anagarika. Last year, on September 20th a site was prepared for the construction of a stupa for devotional and recollective purposes. If all goes according to plan, the stupa should be ready for consecration towards the end of the year and several senior bhikkhus, including Luang Por Sumedho, have been invited from Britain to attend.
Meanwhile Ajahn Vajiro is enjoying an extended period of self retreat in a small hermitage in Victoria.
New Foundation for Dhamma at Cittaviveka:
Over the past few years plans have been developing to build a Dhamma Hall at Cittaviveka to provide an adequate facility for the gatherings at weekends and on festival days. Although the open-air facility is very lovely on a summer's day, holding the Kathina in a marquee in November can present a challenge to one's faith. The current Shrine Room doesn't have enough space for weekend meditators or even the visiting Sangha on larger occasions. Although it may take a while for the new Hall to be built, fortunate circumstances and generous donations have made it possible to lay a foundation in the spring, and Luang Por Sumedho has accepted the invitation to lay a commemorative stone to formally inaugurate the project. This will take place on July 11th So if you have an interest and the wish to share in the occasion, you are warmly invited to come and join us at Cittaviveka for the day.
Buddhist Fair, August 1st:
The annual Buddhist Fair, in Stedham near Chithurst is a family occasion of stalls and exhibitions held to bring Buddhists together. A portion of all proceeds is donated to support monasteries. If you would like to participate with a stall, or are interested in coming along for the day, please contact: Mudita c/o Hamilton Arms, School Lane, Stedham, W. Sussex OU29 ONZ for details.