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Newsletter – Summer 2021

Dear Friends of Cittaviveka, warm greetings,

 

For me, having a biannual publication like this really highlights the subjective perceptions we can have around the passing of time. Does it seem like yesterday that we were reading or preparing the last newsletter, or does it feel like it was ages ago? However it is for us, quite a lot has happened since last December. 

 

Community

 

Living in a community, one of the things that often stands out, quite obviously, is if there have been a lot of changes in who’s living here. These last months have seen a few comings and goings.

 

One long-term resident to have left us is Ajahn Dhammarakkho, who decided to return to lay life in February. Back to being known as Colin, he’s living near his family in Petworth and Chichester. Another former resident, Venerable Indapañño (Alex), also recently decided to return to lay life. For the last two years he had been living at other monasteries in this tradition, and recently visited Cittaviveka to request the Five Precepts. 

 

Some of us have been checking in with Colin and Alex from time to time, and they’re both adjusting well to living in the broader lay community again. The Cittaviveka community wishes to extend all our best wishes to these Dhamma friends, and express our gratitude for their presence in the community, as well as for everything that they did for the monastery during their time here. 

 

A few people have joined the community since January. In the nuns’ community, Ajahn Upekkhā has extended her stay at Cittaviveka. She’s still hoping to return to India, but travel restrictions are currently in place, and she still hopes to get there in the not too distant future. Sister Kittiñānī and Anagārikā Evgeniia recently joined us from Amaravati, and intend to stay through the traditional Rains Retreat (Vassa) that began on 25 July and continues through 21 October. 

 

Venerable Saṁvaro arrived in April from Aruna Ratanagiri Monastery, near Newcastle, and intends to stay for one year. Three monks from Amaravati are also currently living at Cittaviveka: Ajahn Kaccāna, Venerable Khemadassī and Venerable Kosallo, and will remain here for varying periods of time. Lastly, Rajiv Sharma, originally from India, became Anagārika Rajiv on 26 May, Visākha Pūjā. We welcome all of these people to Cittaviveka! In total, this Vassa has in residence fourteen Bhikkhus, three Sīladharā, two Sāmaneras, four Anagārikas and one Anagārikā.

 

Ceremonies

 

We wish to let people know about other changes in the monastic community that have taken place. On 13 June, Sāmanera Cāgadhammo received Full Acceptance into the Bhikkhu Sangha at a ceremony held at Amaravati with Ajahn Amaro as Preceptor. We are grateful to the Amaravati community for so beautifully and skilfully arranging and hosting this important ceremony, especially with the extra care that was needed due to the pandemic. 

 

That was our second opportunity to visit Amaravati since the start of the pandemic. Earlier, on 20 May, a large group of us travelled there to pay respects to both Luang Por Sumedho and Ajahn Amaro. Many people from both of our communities expressed their joy at seeing each other in person, and not on a video conference call! 

 

On 24 July, Āsalha Pūjā, along with the usual ceremonies associated with that day, a Pabbajjā or Sāmanera (Novice) Going Forth Ceremony for Anagārika Pamodha took place. He had completed a year of monastic training as an anagārika, and has now taken this step to deepen his commitment to realizing a peaceful and steady heart and mind. His Sāmanera name is Indavīro, which means something along the lines of, ‘courageous’. As with most Pali names, they can have both a mundane as well as a more lofty meaning. So I like to think of Indavīro as meaning, ‘one who is courageously practising Dhamma’. Unfortunately, due to our ongoing monastery Covid-protocols, this auspicious ceremony was not open to the public.

 

The next significant date on our calendar is Kathina, the yearly alms-giving ceremony to mark the end of the Rains Retreat which is centred around offering robe-cloth, as well as other requisites. Cittaviveka’s Kathina is scheduled for Sunday 7 November, and this year’s sponsor is Orn, a Dhamma-friend and supporter from Woking. As people may recall, last year’s Kathina was a drastically scaled-back event, mostly viewed online via a livestream. This year we hope the conditions will allow for an in-person event, but we’ll simply have to wait and see what's allowable by the government as well as safe for both the visitors and resident community.

 

The Covid-19 Pandemic

 

Regarding the pandemic, it’s likely that for most of us it’s still a major feature in our lives. The world continues to be forced to adapt to the changing conditions, both imposed by governments and through personal decisions. Even with the 19 July lifting of most restrictions here in England, Cittaviveka continues to follow its own protocols. Throughout the pandemic, so far, the monastery has tended towards being more cautious than the national restrictions. This is because of our somewhat unique situation of being a residential ‘place of worship’. We realize that this has been both challenging and disappointing to some people. But please know that we are appreciative of people’s understanding and patience, especially as it might be confusing or frustrating when our protocols differ from the government restrictions. 

 

As always, please check our website for up to date information on our opening times and accessible areas. At the time of writing this newsletter, our opening hours are from 10.30 am until 5 pm (recently extended from 1.30 pm), with access to the Dhamma Hall, Gardens and toilets only. Two other changes that we've recently made are that we are now making meditation mats and cushions available in the Dhamma Hall, and on Saturdays and Sundays we're sharing the food offerings with day visitors. Offerings can be dropped off outside the kitchen during opening hours, or at any time of day or night at the tables set up near the front driveway to the monastery. 

 

Online Teachings

 

Cittaviveka continues to offer teachings online six times a month: the weekly Guided Meditation on Wednesday evenings, as well as the Dhamma reflection on the full and new moon evenings. Luang Por Sucitto has also been offering several retreats online, hosted by groups in various parts of the globe, sometimes with hundreds of participants. For information on available online teachings and retreats, please visit www.cittaviveka.org/upcoming-livestreams

 

Support

 

The monastery has continued to be very well supported with food and other material requisites, for which we are immensely grateful. Thank you all for your generosity and kindness. Even when the monastery was closed to outside visitors, the requisites kept flowing in. With our reopening last May, we were delighted to see people coming again into the Dhamma Hall and gardens. Personally, I am always inspired and uplifted to walk into the hall before the mealtime blessing and see a gathering of people, often sitting quietly in meditation or simply enjoying the peaceful atmosphere of the room. 

 

With short-term overnight guests still not being received, we have continued to be supported by guests with a minimum stay of two months, which typically includes a period of quarantine. This is a generous and significant commitment for which we are thankful. Since the pandemic began eighteen months ago, several people have come and gone and returned again. Having people with skill and experience in living in a monastic setting always helps with a harmonious atmosphere and smooth running of the monastery. But we are also always happy to see newcomers arrive and take part in both developing their own Dhamma practice and supporting the community.

 

Travels

 

The last year and half has also been marked by the almost complete lack of residents travelling outside the monastery. What travels have taken place have been almost entirely for family visits, or to move between monasteries both here in the UK and abroad. A few members of the community managed to have home visits. Having myself recently returned from seeing my mother in California, I can attest to the added complications of international travel at this time: Covid tests (I’m getting fairly adept at swabbing my throat!), Passenger Locator Forms, keeping abreast of the restrictions .... Travelling now gives us added opportunities to practise patience! But I also wish to say what a joy and privilege it was to finally be able to see my family after a two-year gap. And I feel a great sense of gratitude to the resident community for covering all of my duties that I couldn’t deal with myself online.

 

Return to ‘Normal’

 

Understandably, people have been asking us, ‘When will the monastery be fully open again? or, ‘When can short-term guests come and stay again?’ Good questions. The short answer is we simply don’t know. Each of our various monasteries is approaching this slightly differently, depending on a number of factors including size and demographic of the resident community, physical layout of the monastery, and so on. For the time being, at least for a few weeks, as mentioned above we’ll be keeping the same protocols as we have now. But please rest assured that we will be reviewing the situation, and will make changes when we think it’s safe and appropriate.

 

Closing Reflection

 

As I close this newsletter, once again I wish to convey the community’s gratitude for all of the material support and kindness that we receive, from people near and far. For me, the Dhamma theme of anicca – the impermanent, transient nature of all things – has been highlighted even more than usual. Who amongst us has not been affected by the pandemic? Who amongst us hasn’t had to make changes to our lives, big and small? The advice I keep giving myself, and that I’ll share here, is to keep adapting; keep letting go of ideas and ideals; keep changing with the changing conditions. Lastly, keep calm.

 

With very good wishes,

 

Ajahn Ahiṁsako 

Abbot — Chithurst Buddhist Monastery