Newsletter April 2013
Here at Cittaviveka we have come through a long hard winter with a very good sense of inner warmth and harmony. Outer warmth was in short supply, and for people living in the forest the weather was challenging – to put it mildly! However the three-month retreat was made convivial by people coming from USA, Canada and Australia as well as from UK, in order to support and participate in the atmosphere of this Dhamma-refuge. Together with a resident community of twenty, spread out between Rocana, Chithurst House and Hammer Wood, that made for a situation of good companionship with adequate individual space.
Hearing of people's suffering through economic and climatic causes, as well of as the loss of animal life, is a reminder of how vulnerable we all are to forces that seem beyond our control. Moreover, that Dhamma-practice is grounded on life on this planet; the only one that has ever been found that can support us. Over the last decade we all become painfully aware that human carelessness and misuse of the earth and its creatures is a prime reason for climate change; and that might make such winters the norm. This is kamma – the principle of cause and effect. When we reflect on cause and effect in our lives, we should consider that all material things really come from and belong to the earth. Humans can't create water, soil, minerals and animals. So how do we use its gifts? Do we take just what we need, share what we have and try to give something back (such as through planting trees, or through supporting charities)? Also whatever we dispose of has to go back to the earth, rivers, ocean and air sooner or later: do we just dump poisons and plastics into our own food supply? Can we refrain from using plastic bags and bottles for example? Can we learn to live more lightly? The monastic training of contemplating the requisites as offering enough shelter, clothing, food and medicines to protect us against the elements, seems a very relevant reflection. And that we use these so that we can practise for awakening: because it is through a lack of wise reflection, personal modesty and conscience and concern that our home planet has been put at risk. Mind is the origin of the world.
The monastery, although on its margins, is also not separate from society. This is something that is made evident by the ongoing stream of visitors and guests who come by for meditation, teaching (and at Rocana, the Saturday afternoon ‘Dhamma contemplation’); or just to be part of what's happening. The porous nature of the boundaries could be worrying – and there have been occasional acts of vandalism and theft – but what is gained through trusting in the natural conscience and concern that arises in this place of peace, far outweighs any losses. For a start, it is gladdening to see people coming and deriving benefit from what the place offers; then one also gets to meet a variety of people right across the social spectrum and get insight from how they're relating to the human conundrum; and furthermore one gets to experience a Dhamma-culture, one that draws from the Asian traditions, as it arises in this country.
On which note, I must mention three upcoming gatherings that I hope many people can make good use of. The first is Wesak, which we will hold here on May 19th. This year, Luang Por Khemadhammo has accepted our invitation to come and preside over the event and offer a teaching. Luang Por Khemadhammo is the most senior disciple of Ven. Ajahn Chah currently resident in this country and is based at The Forest Hermitage (Wat Pah Santidhamma) near Coventry. As you may know, Luang Por Khemadhammo created Angulimala, the Buddhist Prison Chaplaincy, and also founded the Theravada Buddhist Sangha of the UK as a co-ordinating advisory body on Buddhism to the government. He rarely comes here, so I hope you will take the opportunity to come and meet him.
On June 16th we will hold our annual International Tod Pha Pa; a day that we also us to commemorate Ajahn Chah. The aim of this gathering is to bring people together from all the social and ethnic groups that support Cittaviveka, in an act of making an offering to the monastery. This year there are some final details on the covered walkway to finish off. (Incidentally, the walkway – which I saw as a low-priority project years ago – has been a blessing indeed for the past few months, as it offers shelter for walking meditation). Anyway, if you'd like to visit S.E. Asia but can't afford the airfare (or are worried about carbon emissions) here is a quick way to get a good taste of what that culture offers. And of course, meet friends. We hope that this year we will be joined by Luang Por Khampong from Wat Pah Pong, but as yet we have no confirmation on that.
The final event of the season will be the consecration of the Ananda Maitreya stupa on July 18th. This stupa is being established in grateful memory of Ven. Ananda Maitreya Mahanayaka Thera, who was such a solid support, patron and guide to our community throughout the eighties and nineties. When I was looking around for some advice on how we might construct such a memorial, I made inquiries of Don Rajapakse, hoping he could give me a lead to someone who knew about building stupas in the traditional Sinhalese style. 'I'll do it!' was his immediate response. Although he had no experience, 'Raja' threw himself into the project and, learning as he went along, has been working days, and spending nights in a small room above the workshop, since autumn last year. As I write, the stupa is nearing completion. Meanwhile, Billy Andrews (aided by Janez) has built a sturdy stone plinth on the site of the old sima on which the stupa will stand; and we have created a raised flower bed to partially enclose the area and turn it into a sacred garden for contemplation. The finishing touch is that the current Mahanayaka in the UK, Ven Seelawimala Thera, has agreed to bring bhikkhus down from the London Buddhist Vihara to offer blessings, and inaugurate the stupa. As this will only happen once, I strongly encourage you to join us on this auspicious day.
And after all that, we have the Asalha Puja on 22nd July, the beginning of the Rains Retreat and our next occasion for a period of group meditation practice. Walking, sitting, back to the breath...