The community at Cittaviveka has changed since the early spring. Incoming are Ajahn ‘Dto’ Pesalo and Ven. Saccapalo, both from Thailand; on the outgoing side are Ven Dhammarakkho (to Amaravati), Ven Analayo to Hartridge in Devon, Samanera Tapassi to Aruna Ratanagiri (with Anagarika Nick) and Samanera Cakkavaro to Dhammapala in Switzerland. Also between that time and now, we’ve had visits from Luang Por Khampong from the extended Wat Pah Pong community, and from three ajahns based in Australia: Ajahn Kalyano from Buddha-Bodhivana near Melbourne, Ajahn Khemavaro from Wat Buddha-Dhamma in New South Wales, and Ajahn Dhammasiha from Dhammagiri near Brisbane. As another theme in all this coming and going, many of the monks have been out on tudong – walking through the country with minimal gear, sleeping rough and living on what turns up at the interface with laypeople. Fairly regular meals (although mostly of the bread and bananas uncooked kind) have been offered, and on one occasion medical support for a monk whose tendons were damaged and had to be ferried back to Cittaviveka. Alms-rounds to local towns on Mondays and Fridays have become a regular feature of our life here, and such moral as well as practical support is a very uplifting raft to be living on. On this raft the members of the community shift and share around in terms of physical location. However, now we’re settling into the Rains Retreat (Vassa), the period of stability which goes on until October 19th.
Ajahn Metta continues as the resident nun at the Rocana Vihara and will be joined soon by the new Anagarika Varada.
The Vassa this year began in a particularly auspicious way. It was heralded by the consecration of the Ven. Ananda Maitreya stupa on July 18th, which was officiated by Ven. Bogoda Seelavimala, the Mahanayaka of the Sri Lankan Sangha in the UK and a number of Sr Lankan bhikkhus from viharas as far away as Nottingham – as well as Ajahn Amaro from Amaravati and Ajahn Jutindharo from Hartridge. Also in devoted attendance were about eighty laypeople, many clad in white and bearing garlands. The chanting of the Dhammacakkappavattana sutta, the Buddha’s first discourse, flowed beautifully, with the differences between the Sri Lankan and the Thai styles presenting no obstacles. Then, at the end of the procedure, the community at Cittaviveka presented gifts to the visiting Mahatheras as a sign of respect. It was a gesture of gratitude to these individuals for leading the ceremony, and it also enabled us as a Sangha based in Britain to make a suitable offering to the Sangha that has been carrying the Dhamma-Vinaya in Asia for the past 2,600 years. We in the West are still newcomers, and whatever understanding and energy we can contribute to Buddhism must always be based on acknowledgement of the gift that we have received.
One of the gifts that we presented was a calligraphic rendition of another key Dhamma teaching:
‘The Tathāgata has shown the cause
of conditions that arise from a cause;
and what brings their cessation too:
this is the teaching of the great samana.’
This is a great reminder for us not to get dazzled or upset by whatever happens, but to constantly look into what factors, skilful or unskilful, are creating the world, now. If we look and hold to steady awareness, greed, aversion, confusion and despair don’t get fed. Being starved of food, they fade out. We can also understand what causes and conditions support honesty, moral integrity and goodwill, and through focusing on and engaging with them bring them to life. The problem is that there always seem to be more good things that need to be done than we can manage to do. Climate change, pollution, ongoing war, etc., etc. So what is the priority for right action? There is a motto that Ven Ananda Maitreya chose and had engraved in stone for us, that describes our need to find a basis. It reads (in translation) ‘Vinaya is for the longevity of the Way’. Vinaya, the teachings on action and relationship, on skilful kamma, guidelines, and protocols, presents a framework within which to live. It is our theme for study and contemplation each Vassa. Much more than a collection of rules, it outlines how itinerant spiritual seekers can live and act together as a community. It also provides many illustrations of what will encourage and support Dhamma for laypeople, and is the basis for the extended fellowship of disciples, the four-fold Assembly(catu-parisa).
Moral integrity is at the heart of the Vinaya, which proscribes the harming of animals, and of even disturbing the earth. So when we place that template against activities such as fracking – which promises to meet the UK’s energy needs for the next twenty-five years, but is also expected to cause long-term environmental damage – it encourages us to balance short-term gains against long-term results. Looking into cause and effect is the basis for wise action. While we recognize that humans have to use the earth’s resources in order to survive, there can be conscience and concern about how much we use, what we can recycle and what we must do without. With wise reflection concern for the welfare of others, simplicity of needs and sharing should become main themes of everyone’s life.
One notable example of this frugality and sharing in the Vinaya is an incident whereby Ven. Ānanda is offered a large number of new robes by the wives of King Udena. The somewhat indignant king then asks Ānanda what he will do with so many robes. Ānanda says he will share them out amongst his fellow bhikkhus who have thin, worn robes. And what, the king asks, will they do with their old robes? Ānanda replies that they will make them into shawls; and in the course of the subsequent questioning, that the old shawls will become mattress covers; the old mattress covers, floor coverings; the old floor coverings, foot-wipers; the old foot-wipers, dusters – and that the old dusters will be torn up, mixed with mud and compounded into plaster for the floor. [Vinaya: Culavagga 11, 13-14]. Looking around Cittaviveka, I notice that the floor of my kuti and of the workshop came from the old Assembly Hall at Amaravati, that a team of monks and laypeople salvaged the cupboards in the workshop from a hospital that was being demolished, that the duvet covers are old robes, the chairs came from a Thai restaurant, etc., etc. It’s also the case that we periodically donate our surplus food and household supplies to local charities, and we have enacted a formal procedure whereby any requisites that we have in abundance are offered to other monasteries. Also as a reminder: please check with the monastery when you’re thinking of making offerings – there may be items that we don’t need. We don’t need bottled water (which is expensive, unnecessary and leaves plastic to be disposed of).
So there are three channels through which wisdom operates in terms of social action: morality, generosity and renunciation/simplicity. This isn’t just some archaic monastic form, it is the living structure of the Buddha’s Way. And when this cluster of factors is correctly held, community arises. Community, the sense of belonging and sharing with other people is something that I often hear expressed as a need for laypeople; it is something that the individualistic nature of our society reduces. One reason for this is the lack of occasions for sharing. When everything – a place to park a car, someone to mind one’s child, even some spiritual teachings – comes with a price tag, gratitude and sharing don’t find adequate expression. Ongoing sharing only becomes possible with people you trust – hence moral integrity is a requirement. But when we can live in trust and in sharing, community happens. It’s an extendable field. Share service, goods, attention and points of view. It all helps.
After the Vassa, a Kathina alms-offering gathering will take place in the monastery. A Kathina leaflet will be sent out in a few weeks. This will be followed by the November Forest Work session between November 10th and 29th – details of which are in the ‘Special Events’ list. These are specific and obvious occasions when you can participate in community – even coming to cook during the Work session is a support because it enables anagarikas to be out in the forest. Currently we also have a need for someone to supervise the Personal Appliance Testing of electrical equipment, as, after several years of a trouble-free relationship, PAT is getting divorced from John Chapman. Appliance Testing entails using some equipment to periodically check that equipment is safe; mostly what is needed is consistency and keeping a record. If you’d like to help in this way, please contact Paul Bruce at the monastery or his details are on the ‘Special Events’ list. What’s obvious, as the Vinaya structure makes clear, is that none of us can cultivate this Way on our own, but every day in which we engage in the practice of moral integrity, sharing and simplifying needs, is an occasion for community consciousness to arise. Hopefully, with time, patience and wise attention we can get all the pieces to fit together.