Juanuary             2008                             2551                      Number     82
The Forest Sangha is a worldwide Buddhist monastic
community in the Thai forest tradition of Ajahn Chah

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Monasteries 2007

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


Owl in Hammerwood. Drawn by Ajahn Thitadhammo


Cittaviveka (Chithurst)

The lovely golden brown and russet reds of autumn foliage at Chithurst make you think that getting old can be beautiful.

An advantage of living in a monastery that has sizeable woodland, is to get a sense that along with sudden events, there is steady growth. Over the last 28 years we have been replanting and increasing the amount of tree cover present over the 170 acres of Cittaviveka. This year is no exception and as usual, we have set aside a period of up to a month during which volunteers and residents commit to five days a week of a regular day’s work in the woods. It takes a while, but we get to see the results of this work: sturdy young trees, wild flowers, shady groves and an increase in the numbers and diversity of wildlife. The place is a sanctuary to birds, badgers, foxes and deer, as well as fungi, lichen and heather. And for a contemplative, apart from offering places for retreat, the woodland also demonstrates the ease with which nature, in its growing, takes care of itself. It’s a good reminder for the process of cultivating the mind: set up supportive conditions, guard the young growth against damage, and then attend with care. In due time, a Refuge is discerned.

This Rains Season has also been a season of particular events, and due celebration. In August, our most elderly resident, Ajahn Thitadhammo, notched up his seventieth year, and we marked the occasion with an exhibition of some of his extensive portfolio of drawings. They have to be seen. We hope to post some up on our website

There was a grander occasion on November 3rd when a Sangha from all the monasteries in Britain gathered to commemorate the 25th vassa of Ajahns Sundara and Candasiri, our most senior nuns. The day attracted many well-wishers, and women who had been nuns or anagarikas from near and far.

Even more than acknowledging their own ongoing commitment and value to our communities, the occasion signified that this was the twenty-fifth vassa for the Order of Siladhara. There are many things that could be said about those 25 years in terms of particular events, specific people, times of inspiration as well as of uncertainty and pain. However in terms of the overall picture, we now definitely have an order of nuns that takes care of itself with care and skill, presents and lives out the Buddha’s Dhamma. And this is perhaps the biggest step that the Sangha has made, and is still making, in terms of the shift to the West.

The conventions and protocols of the Buddha’s Way have always, even during the time of the Buddha, allowed for a process of adaptation and change. Certainly there are constant norms: all of the many traditions now extant would agree upon morality, renunciation and mind-cultivation as being the path to the Deathless. But the Buddha did keep adapting the training rules during his lifetime and set up criteria within which to judge the need for future adaptation in accordance with the agreement of the Sangha, and provided that such adaptation supports the Dhamma-Vinaya. Some of these adaptations respond to climate, or to emphases on spiritual interests, such as devotion, but most take into account the mores of the local culture. Accordingly in the Asian homelands of Buddhism there are now many differences between the forms of Buddhism in Tibet, Korea, China, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the rest. However one thing that differentiates traditional East from contemporary West is the role and position of women in the society. Accordingly one of our ongoing topics of debate and adaptation is how to mirror the gender norms of Western lay society whilst keeping true to the lineage that has given us so much. It’s a topic that can arouse strong views. Over 25 years, we’ve tried to keep to a pragmatic focus, to what works, what enables communities and individuals to grow. And giving things the time to develop naturally from wholesome causes and conditions. It’s a process which a forest monastery readily presents: stay connected to the roots and the earth, grow and bend and head for the light.

In terms of following the guidance of the Buddhist tradition, all of us have the job of translating the words and ideas into living, flowing, holistic experience. And although we’re all wearing robes and part of a tradition, the Sangha is made up of specific individuals. Just these acts of recognition affect meditation and training. You work with what you have in front of you, and the first job is to understand and know how to work: when to wait, when to go forward, when to adapt.

Much the same style informs other developments in the monastery. Things flow and pause at an unexpected rate. They move along, not exactly according to some great design but through specific acts of goodness within the overall framework. This year, funds have been coming in to pay off the debt incurred in purchasing Rocana Vihara in downpours and spurts, through individual donations, and collective efforts. (An amazing amount has been given, but the debt still needs to be attended to). Meanwhile, after a three-year hiatus, lay supporters have picked up the project to complete the covered walkway that extends between the Dhamma-Hall and the Main House. This year another 10 metres have been erected. It was quite a job because wasps had built a nest in the wall which had to be worked on, and they naturally became pretty agitated when anyone started hammering on that wall. Which was all definitely not according to plan. So it took one individual, Janez, wearing a bee-suit and working at night, to complete the job. Surrounded at times by swarms of wasps, he managed to do the adjustments to the brickwork without harming a single wasp, and only collecting one sting himself. Events like this offer their own teaching.

As the season changes and moves into winter, the monastery is thinning out: about half the resident bhikkhus will be moving to other places, Ajahn Sucitto will be teaching at Amaravati and then in South Africa and the two most senior nuns will be travelling to USA and Australia until the end of the year. At the beginning of the vassa, Ven. Savako disrobed due to ill-health; at the end of it Sr. Cintamani returned to lay life. However we expect to settle in to the new year with a newly-ordained Bhikkhu Dhirapañño, a newly-returned Sister Thitamedha and Ajahn Dhiravamso from Hartridge. The rest of it is uncertain – except that it will be in accordance with nature.



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