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

amaravati stupa

Amaravati

Amaravati monks

The good-natured rhythms of life in the male monastic community at Amaravati have continued in 2007. A mix of retreats, pujas, work, movements, silent time, visitors, various projects and personal space are par for the course of the year-long routine, with the encouragement to recognize and maintain a deeper awareness of the mind and body being the all-encompassing ethos.

The year began as usual, with three months of silent, spacious retreat for the entire Amaravati community. We were well looked after by a group of lay supporters who took care of the kitchen and other essential duties, making it possible for the anagarikas to have a full retreat as well. Along with a gradual resumption of activity to do with external commitments and monastery maintenance, April also usually sees a gathering at Amaravati of senior monks and nuns arriving for various meetings. This signals another three-month period in spring and early summer, between the winter retreat and the vassa, where community movements are likely to take place, tudongs undertaken, invitations taken up, and a generally unpredictable flow of monks and novices are in and out of residence for various lengths of time. The daily routine continues throughout, with pujas and Observance night sittings, work in the mornings five days a week and the rest for personal practice.

2007 had its share of comings and goings. This was the first year that Amaravati has been without the presence of Ajahn Jutindharo since he arrived 14 years ago from Chithurst. Taking up the abbot’s mantle at Hartridge Monastery, Ajahn Jutindharo left us in May. With Ajahn Nyanarato taking time out for much of the year from his usual leadership roles, this left active only Ajahn Vajiro of the three bhikkhus who have for years been most engaged at the administrative helm of managing community affairs on behalf of the male Sangha. He has coped accordingly as the community finds and fills the gaps.

In addition to long visits from monks such as Ajahn Anando, who, having started at Amaravati over a decade ago is now living in Thailand, we have seen new members join and old members depart the monastic community this year. Anagarikas Paresh, Yanis and Antonin (British, Latvian, and Czech respectively) have entered the community this year, while Anagarika Adin left in May to live in a Zen community in America. In July Anagarika Bruno became Samanera Tissaro and Samanera Adicco became a bhikkhu, spending the vassa at Cittaviveka before returning here for our Kathina along with Tan Dhammiko. Two more senior monks were added to the ranks, both having spent time at Bodhinyanarama in New Zealand: Ajahn Dhammanando earlier in the year and Ajahn Ariyasilo after the vassa.

After a year with us Tan Ahimsako returned to Abhayagiri in June; he’ll be remembered with bright appreciation. As will Tan Nyanadassano who left before the vassa, spending a month at Dhammapala before joining the community at Santacittarama. By the time this newsletter is posted Ven. Subaddho will also have moved. After many years participating and giving a great deal at Amaravati he will be joining Ajahn Jutindharo and the small, quiet community in Devon. Ven. Suddhano, who joined us for the vassa after many years at Cittaviveka and a short spell in Thailand, has departed for his native Philadelphia … and may or may not be returning. And for most of this year Ajahn Suriyo, who started as an anagarika at Amaravati nearly 20 years ago, has been staying at the Sangha residence of Pin Mill, a hermitage in Suffolk which has recently been sold. For all of his time in the Sangha, Ajahn Suriyo has had to bear with a rare and debilitating illness which has defied every attempt at identification and cure, while at the same time living the renunciant life of a monk. After years of consideration he finally decided that in order to be better able to work with his condition he would put down the training and return to lay life – at least for a number of years.

This year saw another departure. As noted in the last issue of the newsletter, we were shocked by the tragic death of long-term lay resident Alan Cole. Struggling with depression and under medical supervision for some time, Alan took his own life on August 25th. Two funerals were held, one at Amaravati and one in Covent Garden, attended by Alan’s family and friends in the Sangha and from his previous life as a street performer, as well as parents and children who remember him fondly for his creative participation in the Amaravati Family Camps. A one hundred days memorial for Alan was held at Amaravati on December 2nd, and a tree planted in his memory at the spot near the drive where he practised his daily Tai Chi. Perhaps the area will become ‘Alan’s Grove’ as we carry his memory into the future, offering the benefits of our practice to support his well-being in the Way.

Beside the movements, in the foreground has remained the bulk of the resident Sangha. Luang Por Sumedho, while accepting outside invitations as he has always done and being away from time to time, is nevertheless a continual, joyous and wise guiding presence at the monastery and within the monks’ community.

2007 at Amaravati was in one way reminiscent of the days before the Temple, with pujas held in the Sala for most of the year due to the glacial pace of work to replace the Temple’s underfloor heating. This should be finished soon…. Another seemingly endless project has concerned the Amaravati Stupa. With the stability of its foundations under question since the surrounding raised platform has been slowly sinking, patient observation has been the approach to assess whether and how much rebuilding might be needed. The stupa itself seems on solid enough ground, but while we wait to see, visitors have been asked not to climb the steps to the tiled level. Soon there should be a shrine table in front for those who wish to make offerings. The mound itself on which the stupa rests has recently been covered with turf, improving its looks immeasurably.

We also look forward to the possibility of expanding the accommodation available for the Sangha. This summer we received permission to build seven new kutis along the edges of the field. The plan is for four new kutis for nuns and three for monks. This will greatly help the process of providing more secluded living spaces for the Sangha at Amaravati, which has for the most part been making do with the buildings we inherited from the school formerly on this property.

 

 


 


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