FOREST SANGHA
newsletter
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

ajahn chah

Inside Kusala Guest House, Harnham

Aruna Ratanagiri (Harnham)

Sharing the goodies around

At the time of writing this article Kathina season 2007 is drawing to a close. Somehow this year’s festivals seemed lovelier than ever. Maybe it is the time of year – bright skies and sunny days; maybe it is the extra-rich golden leaves on the trees. Or perhaps it was noticing more clearly how rewarding it is when we meet as spiritual community – a shared participation in the goodness of life. For the laity the Kathina was, as always, an occasion of abundant material sharing, more than enough to see us through the winter months ahead. And the resident Sangha in our own way did what we could to prepare the monastery so that visitors coming here would remember what places like this are for. Sharing the space of ‘sanctuary’ can be a source of great joy.

To this end, here at Harnham over the last year a lot of effort has gone into completing Kusala Guest House. Well, at least getting it into a usable condition. And it is being used. Many are taking the opportunity to spend time in it and appreciating the possibilities it presents. Already for the year 2008 we have five retreats planned, which is a considerable increase in what we have been able to offer in recent years. Two of those retreats are women-only, one is for men; and this is besides the usual mixed retreats (see www.kusalahouse.org, under Activities). And there has been a significant sharing of skills from local friends who have taken on responsibility for maintaining the place.

guest roomA worldly approach to the increased workload involved in running such a large building might be to employ someone to get the cleaning done and the bedding washed. A spiritual approach is to listen to what a heart of gratitude has to say. In this case gratitude for the facility is readily expressing itself as willingness to get involved. This is an important aspect of sharing in the task of figuring out how the lay community have their spiritual needs met. An important part of the responsibility of the resident Sangha is to establish, maintain and protect the sanctuary. Just how this space is used is a question for the entire community.

These days, thanks to technology, we have considerably extended by way of the internet our field of engagement with the larger community. A lot of appreciation (and a moderate amount of criticism) has been received from all around the world for this effort. The www.dhammatalks.org.uk website is visited by thousands of users and www.dhamathreads.org distributes globally thousands of CDs. This takes time and energy but for those involved, Sangha and lay community members, it is offered most willingly. And it is a cause for the arising of contentment. In a society where we easily loose sight of our good fortune, falling prey to the discontentment on which a consumer economy exists, it is perhaps more important than ever that we occupy ourselves in pursuits that enhance the goodness, not overshadow it. One reason we called our new guest house Kusala – Pali for goodness – is to encourage visitors to more consciously abide in the goodness they already have and to feel protected against the heedless habit of always wanting more.

Also these days, taking up a suggestion made by a recent newcomer, every new moon and full moon we send out, via email, a short Dhamma reflection along with a verse from the Dhammapada aimed at reminding us to stay connected with what our heart tells us is the priority (if you’d like to be included simply send your email address to dhammasakaccha at gmail dot com). When we remember what we need to remember, our life flows in accord with ‘what is’ and contentment abounds; when we forget, we project onto ‘what we imagine is’ and confusion is born.

Participation in spiritual community means we are supported in this kind of remembering. In this context we are helped to discover new ways of meeting all aspects of our life. Each Sunday evening at 5.30 p.m. a gathering takes place at the monastery before Evening Puja for this kind of activity. Sometimes the Sangha are present, sometimes not. But the spirit of meeting in a manner that is referenced to reality, not referenced to ego-needs, generates an atmosphere that both supports and challenges in relevant ways. For in spiritual community it is not only the support which emerges from shared happiness that nourishes practice. Difficult questions can also be safely raised up into awareness. When the group receives the question collectively, without judgement, the individual is afforded the chance to see the question in a new way. That which had been a source of frustration transforms into energy and new understanding.

It is a wonderful thing to know there are no ‘disallowed’ questions. One of the signs of fundamentalism is the existence of ‘no-go’ areas. If the dialogue we are engaged in is interrupted by the perception that certain questions are not allowed, then (often unconsciously) the feeling of safety diminishes. And to the degree our heart closes, the spirit of shared enquiry is compromised. It is true, some questions can lead to feelings of being threatened. But as members of the Buddha-Dhamma community our commitment is to learning – learning to recognize where our attachments cause us to experience ourselves as limited – and not merely to attaching to good feelings. Mindful, patient communication means there is the best chance we’ll get the timing right, and by staying in touch with the good place in ourselves out of which our question arises, we can find those ‘just right’ words which effectively say what we want to say. As our aspirations to walk this not-easy Way are affirmed, gratitude naturally arises. When such goodness is consciously shared it strikes up a harmonious resonance, producing a tangible sense of spiritual community.

I am reminded now of some words from a James Taylor song from a few decades ago – a time of emergence of another beautiful community:

 

Maybe it’s the time of year
Yes, and maybe it’s the time of man
And I don’t know who I am
But life is for learning …



Ajahn Munindo

 

guest house

Kusala Guest House: An upstairs dormitory (Chinch Gryniewicz)

kusala guest house:wall garden

Kusala Guest House: Wall-garden (Taken by Chinch Gryniewicz)

conservatory

Kusala Guest House: The conservatory (Taken by Chinch Gryniewicz)

 

 


 


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