Forest Sangha Newsletter July 1999
Supporting Practice; Ajahn Sucitto
Change, Celebration and Practice; Luang Por Sumedho
Temple of the Heart; Ajahn Candasiri

Change, Celebration and Practice
In an interview with one of the monastic community,
Luang Por Sumedho reflects on his recent pilgrimage,
his practice and role in Amaravati's changing community,
and the Temple Consecration:

Several years ago, when I was in New Zealand, Venerable Sugato asked me if there was anything I still wanted to do. I said the only thing I was still interested in doing was to go to Mount Kailash, in Tibet. I wasn't expecting anything, I was just answering his question. But then he said he could arrange a trip with Andrew Yeats.

The year before we went I prepared, getting myself strong and fit for climbing in the mountains, but then when we actually got there we were forbidden to go to Mount Kailash. Even so, there was still something very fulfilling about having made the effort, the whole sense of the spiritual pilgrimage was very strong. It seemed that many things were coming together: I was approaching 65, the Temple project was completed, the end of the Millennium.

Before, there was always a part of me that was longing to go off and live in solitude, without so many responsibilities and expectations

While I was in Nepal I kept thinking about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, and I realised that what I really wanted was to be at Amaravati - in the last years I have been away so much. I see it as a focus now where people can make a commitment to monastic life, or come offer dana and practise meditation - a sanctuary for those who are interested in Buddha Dhamma.

I had thought I would just be a presence at Amaravati (Spiritual Director was the official title), but then when I talked to Ajahn Viradhammo on my return I realised that, having been Abbot for 4 years, he was ready for a change, so I told him that I could resume that position. He has been a very hard-working monk for many years. Having been thrown into the deep end of teaching as a very junior monk, he helped establish Chithurst and Harnham. Then he established the monastery in New Zealand, and after that has taken on the responsibility of Abbot at Amaravati.
I could intimidate people into thinking that they need to stay here and help, but I don't feel that would be very good for this monastery; just having people who see it as a kind of duty to stay here - afraid of disappointing the abbot if they leave. I don't want to make those kind of demands on anyone; it is not that way for me at all. I like to see the mystery of the unknown and the future of Amaravati as a challenge, rather than something that I have to plan out ahead of time - I'd rather let it happen, I trust in just the natural flow of life.

I used to feel a strong desire to be alone, but life has compelled me into a role of leadership in a community. It hasn't been all that easy for me, because it goes against a longing I have for a hermit existence. I love the meditative life, solitude, so I found it quite a challenge to live in community. But now, because of the practice of Dhamma and the way of mindfulness, I no longer see the community as an obstruction or obstacle in any way.

I feel that I can, in a sense, give of myself in a way that I have never felt before. Before, there was always a part of me that was longing to go off and live in solitude, without so many responsibilities and expectations placed on me - a part of me that actually resented having to be at the forefront of community life. But that's gone now, and I very much enjoy Sangha life.
It is very auspicious that so many very fine monks from Thailand want to come and participate in the Temple opening. The King's sister, Princess Galyani will also be present; I have always appreciated her kind support. Venerable Dr Vajiraņana from the Chiswick Vihara will lead a night of Maha Paritta Chanting before the ceremonies - a very powerful and beautiful offering from the Sri Lankan community. So there is much eagerness to celebrate the consecration of this beautiful Temple. It is a great gift to us, something that will be of benefit over many many years to come. At this time, when there is so much pessimism and endless struggles going on, it is like a bright star in the sky - an encouragement, a direction.

Like anything that blesses us, it can give us a feeling of confidence on our spiritual journey, and a determination to continue. Life can get very difficult, and the valleys of despair are quite common to anyone on the spiritual path, so this is like a sign - just to keep going without looking back. Even if things ahead of you might look black, that's only how it looks - don't let that discourage you, just keep going forward.