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forest sangha newsletter

January     2007                  2550                      Number 78
The Forest Sangha is a world-wide Buddhist community
in the Thai Forest tradition of Ajahn Chah


 

Monasteries

Checking-in with some of the monasteries at the end of another year

monks

The monastic community that spent the 2006 vassa at Amaravati.

( click the image or the link to see the big and clear image )


Amaravati

Amaravati Monks
2006 has seen, as ever, a number of comings and goings within the still and steady vessel of Sangha life at Amaravati. Mostly this year it seemed to be arrivals. Ven. Vinitha, already a novice for 12 years in his native Sri Lanka, joined us early in the year, taking upasampada with Luang Por Sumedho before the vassa. Joining him was Samanera – now Bhikkhu – Dhammiko, one of a steadily growing group of Portugese practitioners taking interest in joining the monastic community here. His compatriot Anagarika Vasco will have taken pabbajja as a samanera in December along with Anagarika Nicola, from Switzerland. Bruno, also from Portugal, joined Adin from California in taking anagarika precepts in July. Ven. Dhammiko will be going to practise at Cittaviveka during 2007, making room for another Portugese monk, Ven. Kancano, who will join us from Thailand. Two Dominics, both English, will have also taken ordination by the New Year: Anagarika Dominic became Samanera Adicco in May and the newest Dominic will take anagarika precepts in December.

This year sixteen bhikkhus, three samaneras and five anagarikas spent the vassa at Amaravati, filling up the accommodation for male Sangha and necessitating a waiting list for bhikkhus asking to join us. Three bhikkhus just slipping in the door this year have included myself, returning from an extended period in Thailand and elsewhere to Amaravati having started here as an anagarika in 1989; Ven. Ahimsako, a junior American monk visiting from Abhayagiri to train with us for a year and who is also returning, in the sense that he lived in England for 17 years before his ordination in America, much of that time coming to Amaravati as a lay supporter; and Ven. Panyanando, an English monk of nine vassas originally ordained in Cambodia and who trained for eight years at Wat Pah Nanachat and other Ajahn Chah branch monasteries in Thailand before arriving in the UK last summer, spending the vassa at Hartridge and arriving at Amaravati for our Kathina.

As to exits, besides Ven. Dhammiko’s move to Cittaviveka, Samanera Paramito will be travelling to Thunder Bay, Canada, for a year to train with Ajahn Punnadhammo at Arrow River Forest Hermitage (www.arrowriver.ca). And Anagarika Gabor, having completed his year’s training, will be returning to lay life in Hungary with the heartfelt blessings of all of us, grateful for all he’s given and shared.

– Bhikkhu Jayanto, on behalf of the monks.


Amaravati Nuns
There has been a good feeling in the nuns’ community at Amaravati over the past year, even with many changes. Significant people have been away – Ajahn Candasiri in Edinburgh supporting her family, and Sister Bodhipala in Cambodia for the vassa – but there is also a tangible sense of the whole and of remaining connected. The question of how we support the Dhamma and ourselves as women practitioners has been very much in consciousness. On her return from Cambodia Sister Bodhipala gave her first Dhamma talk, including her experience of the difficult position of women in traditional Buddhism. At Amaravati itself we are now exploring what forms of leadership and organization may work for us as women. Thus since July the women’s community has been led cooperatively; Ajahn Upekkha as acting senior nun serving together with both Ajahn Anandabodhi and Ajahn Metta (who celebrates her tenth vassa this year!).

Alongside this kind of innovation we have been strengthening some of the traditional building blocks of this life such as going on regular pindapat (faith alms-round). This has been heartening for all of us involved. There have also been people entering the training: Sr Chandasara (ex Anagarika Louise) taking the Ten Precepts in May and Anagarikas Doris, Chiara and Miriam joining us more recently. In December two more lay women, Soledad and Ana Sophia, will take the Anagarika precepts. We are preparing ourselves now to enter the winter retreat and would like to express our deep gratitude to all the lay supporters for your great generosity, helping us to continue our spiritual journey with ease, joy and well being.

Submitted by Sister Sumedha, on behalf of the Amaravati Nuns’ community.



snowbuddha


Buddha image in the snow at Harnham.


Aruna Ratanagiri (Harnham)
With our 25th anniversary celebrations over, our small community here on the hill recently hunkered down out of the wind for a week of silence. It has been a busy autumn. And with the turning of the clocks and the arrival of dark afternoons and moonlit mornings, it was a chance to turn inward and gather our energies for two more active months before the start of the Winter Retreat. Traditionally, we have many friends visiting our monastery in the time leading up to Christmas and New Year. Some of them this year will be able to stay in the new Retreat House which now has various finished rooms ready to serve as very agreeable guest accommodation. The Winter Retreat this time ‘round is going to be for a small bunch that are left on the hill, as Ajahn Munindo, Hiriko Bhikkhu and our caretaker Richard all head east. Together, they’ll visit Wat Pah Pong for the commemoration of the 15th anniversary of Ajahn Chah’s passing away. Afterwards, Hiriko Bhikkhu remains in Thailand at Wat Marp Jun for several months of traditional practice under the watchful eye of Ajahn Anan, whilst Ajahn Munindo and Richard head to New Zealand. Back in Britain, Samanera Nyanamoli will spend the Winter Retreat at Chithurst, leaving Ajahn Sawaeng, Ajahn Abhinando, Anagarika Radek and kitchen manager Jim to hold fort in Northumberland. Then in March, the monastery will close down for a month to allow for the installation of our new sewage system. That means the two Ajahns will leave for Santacittarama and Dhammapala respectively, that Jim temporarily skedaddles and that Radek – our sturdy Pole – will be left to bathe out of a modest bucket. All being well, as the days lengthen in April and everyone returns, the process of ablutions will be less stressful and we will have a fully-functioning retreat house to which all are welcome.

Cittaviveka (Chithurst)
At Cittaviveka, life goes on much as usual, though with an increased community of monks and nuns, and both Ajahn Sucitto and Ajahn Karuniko in residence after long spells away. The biggest change has been the acquisition of Hammerwood Cottage, which has been renamed Rocana Vihara and is being used to increase the accommodation for nuns and female anagarikas. Julia Wilkinson, a long-term supporter and trustee of the English Sangha Trust who has been involved with the purchase of the cottage, reports on the current situation on behalf of the Trust:


Rocana Vihara Update

nuns


It is more than nine months now since the nuns moved into the Rocana Vihara on the third of January this year. This house, previously named Hammer Cottage, is adjacent to the smaller, existing nuns’ cottage, Aloka, and the Hammer Wood so provides a very appropriate home for the nuns. Already, significant movement and changes have been taking place.

Firstly there has been an increase in Sangha numbers, with nine to ten nuns and female anagarikas now living in both the new four- bedroom cottage and the kutis. This has meant that Aloka has been able to provide more accommodation for female lay guests. Indeed, there has been a steady stream (at times a flood) of visitors and the nuns’ community are pleased to be able to offer a more suitable place for old and new friends to stay.

The nuns are greatly benefiting in other ways from having these improved facilities with better space for living and practice. The Rocana Vihara now provides a hub around which the nuns can organize their lives within the larger Chithurst community. Though receiving their main meal at Chithurst House, they are not, as before, having to be constantly moving up and down the hill between the two locations. The monks continue to be extremely supportive of the project, offering much help, and the nuns continue to be involved in the day to day affairs of Chithurst.

The purchase of the Rocana Vihara also means that all the land on both sides of the valley leading up to the lake and the forest is now in the ownership of the English Sangha Trust. The new cottage comes with more than two acres of garden and woodland, so that the whole area is available for quiet contemplation. In particular this enhances the environment around Aloka and also around the south-west corner of the lake.

When the cottage was surveyed prior to purchase it was pointed out that fairly urgent repairs were needed to part of the north-facing roof and the supporting timbers. This is currently being undertaken by contractors and completion of the tiling is awaited. There are some other less significant repairs required but otherwise the cottage is warm, dry and in good order.

With regard to the finances, the EST is extremely grateful to the very generous donors who have contributed so far. Many people have asked how this is going, so here is a breakdown of the main costs, payments and contributions to date:

Costs
Purchase price of cottage and land (plus necessary repairs): £785,000
Payments
Deposit paid by EST: £100,000
Repairs funded by donations: £10,000
Loan from Triodos bank: £675,000
Total: £785,000
Fund balance (further donations less mortgage repayments) at 30.9.06: £191,000

It can be seen from this that it will be possible to pay off a significant part of the loan, in the order of £150,000 to £175,000, by the end of the year. This would then reduce the loan capital outstanding at the year end to around £500,000.

The trustees have been very encouraged by the level of support so far. We are delighted that the cottage has immediately made such a big difference to the Sangha, both in the significant increase in the number of women able to practise in this situation and also the improved accommodation and environment. Benefits extend to the whole Chithurst Sangha.

There is still quite a way to go to pay off the loan so we very much hope that the excellent support for this project will continue. Many grateful thanks to all of you who have helped in whatever way, or will do so in the future.

The Nuns are planning another Open Day (to be announced in the next newsletter) when all are welcome to visit.

Julia Wilkinson
(EST Trustee)

 

sumedho

Ajahn Sumedho and Anagarika Jonathan, now Ajahn Jutindharo, at Harnham 20 yrs. ago

Hartridge (Devon)
In this piece from the Hartridge newsletter, Ajahn Suriyo writes of the transition happening there:

After three and a half years in residence I have decided to step down as abbot of Hartridge and spend a year or two on personal retreat. It has been a privilege to participate in the renewal and ongoing evolution of Hartridge, and even more than the quiet Blackdown Hills I will miss the sincere and generous lay-supporters who keep this monastery going. At the last Elders’ Council meeting in October we discussed the next step for Hartridge. To our delight Ajahn Jutindharo, who was once an anagarika here and has spent the last twelve years at Amaravati Monastery, has expressed an interest in coming to Hartridge as the next senior monk. It will take him a few months to extricate himself from his responsibilities at Amaravati, and in the meantime Ven. Dhiravamso, who has been in residence for the Vassa, will act as caretaker. Ven. Dhammarakkho from Chithurst Monastery will join him for the winter retreat. Ven. Panyanando, also here this past vassa, has taken up residence at Amaravati. May Hartridge continue to flourish and act as a beacon of peace in a turbulent world.

 

temple

Artist’s drawing of the proposed temple at Santacittarama.


Santacittarama (Italy)
Nine years ago Santacittarama relocated to its present setting in the Sabina hills north of Rome, an attractive property with several buildings and 25 acres of woodland and meadow at the end of a gravel road. Ajahn Chandapalo (British), Ajahn Jutindharo (Thai) and Ven. Mahapanyo (Italian) are long-term residents, giving the monastery stability and continuity and covering the most useful languages. Other monks have come and gone over the years; at present there is Ajahn Uttamo, of Taiwanese nationality and nearly 20 years experience of monastic life in Thailand, and another Thai monk called Ajahn Suvaco. Samanera Brahmano, an Italian novice, has gone to Chithurst for the winter retreat and we expect him back in the spring. One indicator of how well-established Santacittarama has become is the fact that we've had no anagarika since June and it's hardly been noticed. There always seem to be enough willing lay guests helping out, taking initiative and able to get on with whatever needs to be done.

People come from all over Italy and beyond to spend a few days or more joining in the daily routine. Since April we've been able to offer more comfortable accommodation for women, having completed a project to convert an old outbuilding, and next year plan to improve and expand the male guest quarters. The main limitation here, however, is the lack of a large meeting hall and plans are beginning to take shape for a temple building. It seems that the local council is well-disposed and we are about to set forth on the procedure that we hope will result in obtaining the necessary permits. Italian bureaucracy can be quite an adventure! The lie of the land lends itself to a square structure of two levels. It will have a pyramid-shaped roof, somewhat similar to Amaravati's temple, with a large meeting hall upstairs of around 200 square metres floor space, and a lower level with reception room, library, bathrooms, storage and an apartment for visiting monks. A detailed plan is still being worked on. In the meantime we'll continue to make do with the small shrine room and, for larger gatherings, a big tent that is barely withstanding the ravages of time, but when the weather is fine affords a pleasant space for ceremonies, meditation days and large danas.

Being situated near the capital city means that often we find ourselves representing Buddhists at the national level. One such recent event was the Remembrance Day service at Rome's Commonwealth War Cemetery. In the past we've been involved in interfaith gatherings in the Italian parliament, at St. Peters in Rome, as well as in Rieti and Assisi. We also have a good connection with several embassies, especially the Thai embassy that has always been very supportive and where we are regularly invited.

One of the most rewarding aspects of living in Italy is the warmth and sincere interest of the local people. Just a few miles down the valley lies the ancient abbey of Farfa, where part of the film "Name of the Rose" was shot, home to a small community of Benedictine monks, one of whom has become a dear friend. Don Santo, a Sicilian, is a regular and much appreciated visitor, sometimes coming to join us for tea and a chat or for an hour of meditation during retreat time. It is also encouraging to see the number of young people coming to join in, motivated to investigate the teachings of the Buddha and to apply themselves to meditation practice. Among the lay people there's a good balance between the Asians – mostly Thai and Sri Lankan – and Italians, and a wholesome atmosphere of appreciation and collaboration between them.

The monastery website (www.santacittarama.org) is regularly updated and now has a gallery of photos.

 

swissnow

View out of a Dhammapala window in winter.


Dhammapala
(Switzerland)
Ajahn Khemasiri, who took up the reins at Dhammapala after Ajahn Tiradhammo moved to Bodhinyanarama in New Zealand last year, invites anyone interested to write to them in Switzerland (address on the Monasteries page under Contacts in the sidebar) and they will be happy to post you a copy of the English language version of their newsletter which will include news from this past year.

 

stupa

The stupa at Bodhinyanarama.


Bodhinyanarama (New Zealand)
Ajahn Dhammanando writes from Wellington:

Last year we were joined by Ajahn Ariyasilo who has generously contributed both to teaching here and at the various groups, and to helping with a number of maintenance projects. In February, Venerable Varapanyo took Upasampada here in a ceremony officiated over by Ajahn Brahmavamso, the abbot of Bodhinyana Monastery in Perth, Australia. In April Venerable Dhammadaso, who was originally trained in New Zealand, returned to Bodhinyanarama from Abhayagiri Monastery in California, where he has been resident for the last four years. This Vassa saw six monks in residence here: Ajahn Tiradhammo, Ajahn Ariyasilo, Bhante Jinalankara, Ajahn Sucinno, Ven. Dhammadaso and Ven. Varapanyo plus Anagarika Dan. Venerable Dhammanando spent the Rains Retreat as monk in residence at the Buddhist Society of Victoria in Melbourne, later returning here in October. Sister Medhanandi is currently on pilgrimage in Asia.

In addition to the teaching some of our bhikkhus have offered in Australia, this year our monastic community has continued reconnecting with meditation groups around New Zealand. There are regular visits to Palmerston North and New Plymouth, coupled with occasional visits to Auckland, Christchurch, Nelson, Napier and, of course, within Wellington itself. Bhante Jinalankara has taught retreats in Otaki and Dunedin. The monastery teaching programme has been expanded so that each month we not only offer an 'Introduction to Meditation' evening, as well as a Saturday afternoon meditation workshop, but also regular weekly meetings, sutta classes and Bhante Jinalankara's retreats in Sinhalese. In October, Ajahn Tiradhammo taught the first weekend retreat in English and we intend to offer more next year. There will also be a New Year's retreat taught by Ajahn Tiradhammo.

Many physical improvements to buildings have been undertaken, including the Upper House plus rear patio and the Triplex (guest residence), and there are further plans in the pipeline. Eventually we hope to have a new kitchen area. This autumn Ajahn Sucinno and Ven. Dhammadaso each disrobed; ex Dhammadaso has now returned as Peter Fernando, to live in the community as a resident upasaka, while Ajahn Sucinno has returned to the lay life. We wish them both well for the future.


Abhayagiri (California)
Nyaniko Bhikkhu writes on behalf of the Sangha at Abhayagiri:

In June 2005 I left Abhayagiri for a year-long stay in Thailand. On the day of my departure, large earth-moving machines were breaking ground on what was to become the monastery’s new cloister buildings. These include an office building with three rooms, public restrooms, and a disabled guest room. When I returned in June 2006, the buildings were completed. Just before returning from Thailand I spoke with Tan Karunadhammo on the phone and he let me know that "There’s plenty of work for you to take part in here when you get back. We’re building four new kutis, a solar system…." A few days after returning to America, in addition to the new cloister buildings, there were two newly framed Elders’ cabins and two kutis made to a smaller standard size of 10’ x 14’. The community was also preparing to set sixty solar panels on top of the Dhamma Hall and main house. The solar project was also to have a second phase with 18 more panels up in the forest. Most of the building work this year has focused on these projects. The solar system in the forest will provide electricity for all of the new kutis, and the future Dhamma Hall and monks’ utility building.

January of 2006 saw record rains and mudslides. The most damage occurred at the women’s guest house, where the hillside and garden collapsed. So, the hillside was reconstructed and covered in large rocks. Near the end of 2006 when the rainy season came again, the exposed sections of hillside were covered with coconut husk cloth and erosion-control grass.

In April, Bhante Rahula paid us a one-week visit and taught four-stage yogic breathing for bringing up energy. Sister Ajahn Candasiri visited from Amaravati for one week in May, accompanied by Sister Cittapala.

Ajahn Pasanno has been on retreat in Thailand this year, leaving Ajahn Amaro as the solitary abbot. Also this year Abhayagiri turned ten years old. Ajahn Chandako and Ajahn Visuddhi joined us for the tenth anniversary celebration in June. On June 4th an open house was held and the lay stewards formally offered the keys to the new cloister buildings to the Sangha. A slide show presentation was given, showing the monastery’s transformations over the past ten years. In late June, Tan Ahimsako went to England to spend his third year as a bhikkhu at Amaravati, and possibly spend some time at the other English branch monasteries.

Also in late June Ajahn Prateep returned to Thailand to attend to his mother who was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Due to a viral infection during the operations she died, and Ajahn is now staying in Thailand for at least one year so that his religious visa can be renewed. Several highly respected Ajahns including Ajahn Dtun, Ajahn Anan, and Ajahn Jayasaro, plus about thirty bhikkhus attended the funeral for Ajahn Prateep’s mother. We are uncertain as to when Ajahn Prateep will return to Abhayagiri.

Tan Dhirapannyo came to live at Abhayagiri from July until late November. He was our Vinaya teacher during the vassa, and we greatly appreciated the depth of his learning and the detail with which he covered the training rules. Tan Dhirapannyo has now returned to his native Thailand, to live at an Ajahn Chah branch monastery in Ubon.

Bhante Gunaratana visited in early November. Bhante’s presence and mastery as a Dhamma teacher was deeply refreshing. Bhante gave a talk on merit one Saturday night at the monastery, which began as follows: "All of the devatas have left the United States, so we must invite them back." We hope to invite Bhante Gunaratana back many times in the future.

Sister Ajahn Thaniya paid us a visit in November for one week before helping Ajahn Amaro lead the annual thanksgiving retreat.

Tan Dhammadaso moved to the New Zealand monastery, Bodhinyanarama, in April 2006. His health has steadily degenerated over the past five years, and he felt that it was extremely difficult to continue living as a bhikkhu given his extreme physical circumstances. Tan Dhammadaso returned to the lay life after the Kathina ceremony this year. Tan Satimanto and Tan Phasuko have also returned to the lay life.

Lee Mintz took anagarika ordination in April. Samanera Sampajano and Anagarika Minh Anh became Bhikkhu Sampajano and Samanera Kassapo in July. Whit Myers took anagarika ordination in October. The current resident community at the end of 2006 consists of Ajahn Amaro, Ajahn Sudanto, Tan Karunadhammo, Tan Jotipalo, Tan Nyaniko, Tan Sampajano, Samanera Tithabho, Samanera Kassapo, Anagarika Lee Mintz, Anagarika Whit Myers and Debbie Stamp.

 

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