Forest Sangha Newsletter July 2000

Bringing the Teachings Alive; Ajahn Viradhammo
Monastic Millennium: Growing up at Chithurst; Ajahn Sucitto
Farewell; Ajahn Attapemo
Obituary: Acharya Godwin Samararatne
The Holy Life; Ajahn Sucitto

Ajahn Attapemo returned to lay life on 13th May. In this letter, he shares some reflections:

Dear Friends,
You may find it a bit of a surprise to learn that I have decided to leave monastic life and return to being a lay person. In my 19 years in robes, the past 13 have been spent at Amaravati, where I have truly enjoyed various roles and responsibilities, most notably helping to give birth to the new Temple, complete with the very grand and wonderful Opening Ceremony last year. These have been perhaps the happiest years of my life, although, throughout the last 3 years, thoughts of disrobing have been a constant companion. If you haven't noticed, my character tends to thrive on engaging with things and people to the point that I feel a bit out of step with the emphasis on the aloneness (the mono) of the monastic vocation. While I do find that silence and emptiness are great resources to draw from, my heart inclines more toward contact with people, and feels drawn toward further exploration and enquiry there.
... the basic way of a monastic may appear to be one where one's suffering is worked out in silence or in emptiness ...

From some traditional points of view this could be seen as barking up the wrong tree, yet my motivation and interest comes from experience in how good quality interaction can actually complement and support one's inquiry into conditions, and even help to focus on some of the core aspects of our suffering, which can lead to discovering how and where we are holding on. Ideally this goes hand in hand with silence, and is in support of a path leading to the ending of suffering.
Whilst this may be a language more familiar to therapists, many of us in the monastic community find ourselves continually challenged by the frictions between one another, and discover much insight comes from focusing on what goes on in us on account of that contact. Sometimes it seems that contact with life and emptiness are in conflict with one another, yet perhaps it is their relationship to one another that is important. Where the basic way of a monastic may appear to be one where one's suffering is worked out in silence or in emptiness, and that certainly is what the monastic vinaya is streamlined to support, more and more within the monastic community we are finding much growth taking place in our capacity to be present, open and honest with one another, and these are skills that are developed interactively.

Exactly what I am going to do with my life remains uncertain; for the moment I'll stay in London, then visit family in the States, all the while contemplating prospects for employment.

I feel I am taking many good things with me: a love and appreciation for silence, a love for spiritual community, a love for service and hard work, and a great love for arousing the human spirit amidst the trials of life. I feel blessed with good fortune and good friendships from life together with the ordained sangha and with so many people in the lay community. I feel extremely well supported over the years in ways that are protecting, a bit like good mothering.
Imagine, I haven't had occasions to cook or garden, drive or handle money all this time. I am looking forward to see what of all 19 years in robes translates into life outside the monastery gates. My sense is that the essence of what I've gained is to do with the quality of attention and care given to moment impressions and feeling tones. Its now 9 days since I disrobed and just 4 days since I left the monastery, and I can say it is very interesting, many things are so fresh, even electric with excitement, like just sitting on a sofa with a woman - innocent enough in itself, but not having done that for 19 years, it makes quite a powerful impression!

And so with much gratitude for everything I feel I have received from Luang Por, the ordained sangha and the lay community I bid you adieu, or as T.S. Eliot says: it is not farewell, but fare forward.

John Stevens