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

Hartridge

Dhammapala

 

Dhammapala (Switzerland)

 

ajahn dhiravamso

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ajahn Khemasiri

Belated new year’s celebrations at Dhammapala were kick-started in early 2007, when the chairman of the monastery trust informed us that the ‘old Dhammapala’ – the monastery’s former property in the town of Konolfingen near Bern – had finally been sold. This was the place where Ajahn Tiradhammo and a couple of other pioneers started the monastic project in Switzerland in 1988. Since moving the monastery to Kandersteg in 1991 there had been continuing attempts to sell the old property, but without much success. What a relief to know that the monastery is now debt free – since up to now substantial interest on the mortgage for the old property still had to be paid.

In general our small community of five spent a harmonious 2007 together. Ajahn Natthiko, who joined us in August of 2006 from Chithurst, continued his process of integration into the Dhammapala realm, and has become a much-appreciated member of the Sangha both within the monastery and by the wider lay community. This was despite undertaking an ongoing, explicit ‘non-struggle‘ with a strange auto-immune disease he’s had since early this year. After various treatments and attempts at diagnoses, the causes for this illness remain mysterious. This heavenly messenger remains a constantly-felt reminder in the background of our lives.

The most steady presence at the monastery this year was ironically Ashin Ottama, who for the first time ever spent the whole of the past year at Dhammapala. Normally his life is divided between a few months of teaching commitments in the Czech Republic and spending the rest of the time with us in the Swiss mountains.

After the quiet and unusually mild winter retreat (with hardly any snowfall – at 1200 meters altitude!) activity in the monastery intensified as summer approached, with many lay and monastic visitors, plus various teaching engagements, and a major renovation project all going on at the same time. It therefore became essential that each member of the community kept their internal resources strong. That can mean some time away from the monastery – as it did for Ajahn Natthiko, Bhante Sukhacitto, Anagarika Robert and myself – but most importantly it concerns the quality and space of the heart at ‘home base’.

We also had outside support during that active period from two long-term visiting monks. U Kaccayana, a Swiss disciple of Pa Auk Sayadaw in Burma, spent a few months on and off with us and Venerable Nyanadassano from Amaravati joined us for a month during the spring.

Margrit, our secretary in the monastery office, had been undergoing a gentle metamorphosis into a prospective nun for quite a while, including the clear outer sign of a shaven head. This process led her to a three-month visit to the newly opened German nunnery in Bavaria, Anenja Vihara. Her stay there served as a trial period, to find out if she resonated with the training and teaching offered by the senior nun, Bhikkhuni Mudita, and if life within a female community could provide a realistic option for her. Halfway through her stay it became clear that she would not go forth into the Holy Life just yet, and she returned to Dhammapala towards the end of October to take up her office duties again. In the interim she was replaced by our friend from Ticino, Claudia Bergomi, who handled much of the monastery’s business with competence and a good deal of lightheartedness and humour.

Four times this year we had much-appreciated, extended visits from nuns. Ajahn Thaniya from Chithurst started it off by spending half the winter retreat with us, enjoying the spaciousness of a small community and the mountain environment. Bhikkhuni Visuddhi, from the Czech Republic, followed in June and spent a month with us. She lives with her teacher in Sri Lanka and supports a kindergarten project for Tsunami orphans. Ajahn Metta and Sister Chandasara arrived in July, during our tudong period when most of the community was away. This brought something new. In this predominantly German-speaking part of the country Ajahn Metta was the first German-speaking nun to offer a retreat. The positive feedback spoke for itself and plans are already afoot to hold another such retreat in July 2008. In November, Swiss nun Sr Ariyanyani (a disciple of Sayadaw U Janaka from Burma) came for a month of rest and recuperation. She is quite an active, travelling Dhamma teacher in her own right and she appreciated the supportive space.

monks and laypeople

Near Dhammapala: Visiting monks and laypeople

Another novelty worth mentioning was the co-teaching of Anagarika Robert – by now a 13 vassa anagarika – in a week-long retreat for lay practitioners titled Mindfulness within stillness and dialogue. Daily small group dialogues were an essential part of this retreat, and they contributed to a steady increase in the quality of silent meditative inquiry as the days went by. The end result felt so encouraging and uplifting that we’re considering holding future retreats in the same style.

Also noteworthy this year was Ajahn Natthiko’s participation in a gathering of transpersonal psychologists in Freiburg, Germany. The title of the conference was Forgiveness and Reconciliation. His contribution consisted of a workshop given from a Buddhist perspective. The meeting was mainly spent in active exploration and featured reports from participants’ own therapeutic work. Particular attention was given to the Holocaust, and how much it is still alive today within the collective psyche of the Western world.

Twice this year we showed our support for the lovely retreat centre in southern France, Le Refuge, and its host Betty Picheloup. Ajahn Natthiko and myself gave a couple of talks and weekend retreats there. The remainder of our outside teaching engagements was limited, so we could focus on life within the monastery and on regular periods of stillness and reflection for ourselves. From April onwards each year Dhammapala offers a schedule of retreats, workshops and talks to various meditation groups, student groups and people from adult education institutions. This annual rhythm of events has made it obvious to us where our priorities must lie; slowly over the years we seem to have learned the lesson.

Within our small community there have always been changes of personnel from time to time, and this year it concerned Bhante Sukhacitto. After six years at Dhammapala it was time for him to move on to new pastures. His immediate plans are to join the community at Amaravati for the winter retreat and to spend the vassa in 2008 at the Metta Vihara in southern Germany. Our good wishes accompany him on his way.

Our monastery’s rather limited property does not invite huge work projects and alterations anymore – thankfully. But this year a long-held plan finally came to fruition. The front of the monastery had been spruced up with a beautifully laid out natural stone terrace in late 2006. During spring and autumn our friend Berti built a fine wooden porch over it, to serve as the main welcoming area. All that’s left to be put into place are the two wrathful Nepalese Dhammapala (‘Dhamma-guardian’) figures, presently lingering in the monks’ common room, traditionally meant to scare away forces hostile to the Dhamma – and hopefully not the local people! We also gave the Reception Room (the Sala) a thorough facelift with freshly painted walls, a new wall-to-wall carpet and an enhanced shrine arrangement.

As Dhammapala Monastery moves into the 20th year since its foundation, we’re looking back over that time at a striking multitude of people who have either lived here as Sangha members or received teachings and inspiration as guests and visitors. Also many have come through just to abide within the peaceful atmosphere, or simply to offer it something from their hearts. As a resident it’s a privilege to know that one’s contributions to this Dhamma field are widely appreciated and at the same time enriching for one’s own growth in the Dhamma. We are looking forward to this continuing for many years to come.


Ajahn Khemasiri

 

 


 


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