The community at Cittaviveka is coming out of the winter retreat and into the spring, with its comings and goings, events and projects, planning and organizing. We may have mixed feelings about the changes. Of course, it’s pleasant to be in a warm and flowering season again, but the coming of spring also means that, with visiting samanas and the lay support team going their separate ways, our retreat community is breaking up. This is the way things are of course, but the retreat was a very agreeable episode for all of us. It has presented the uplifting qualities of commitment, mutual support and harmony; and the long-term stability and the directness of the practice seem to curtail misunderstandings – which, amongst a group of about thirty-five people and twenty nationalities, is remarkable.
This year there were several periods of collective retreat, along with self-retreats, optional work periods, and the need to deal with what the winter storms have brought. However, in a life-style of few deadlines, the main project is to sustain clarity and meet what arises, whether that’s pleasant, unpleasant, internal, external, refined or gross. Practising in this vein makes life both manageable and insightful, and it’s clear that maintaining this aware engagement is the continuing work. It means living in accord with the liberating insights into impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and not-self (anicca, dukkha, anattā). These realizations may sound bleak, but when they are integrated with mindful awareness the experience is that they lead to happiness and calm. So the acceptance of and wise response to these facts of life is what we offer as a skill, and it is this way of living that continues to inform our way of life after the retreat ends. The test is: as a complex world seeks our attention, can we keep clearly attentive to, rather than entangled with, the mind and its activities?
To help with this, we bear in mind the fact of impermanence. This is often summed up as: ‘awareness that all that arises has the nature to pass.’ Arising and passing: the opening to Dhamma is in allowing and meeting both aspects of the process. Sometimes we don’t want pleasant occasions to come to an end; and it’s also the case that we may very well not want the new, the unsettled, or problematic to arise. However our practice is to meet the changes with awareness; if we can’t do that, we run the risk of shutting down and going stale. Of course, in our Dhamma environment, the new is generally a blessing that just needs to be integrated, or a challenge that will bring forth strength and understanding.
As I say, by and large what arises is good. As regards the challenges: if you live in the UK, you probably were affected by the storms and floods as we were. Here, some trees went down and the water levels rose. An over-full Hammer Pond swept over the dam wall and created a running lake between Aloka and Rocana about twenty metres wide and thigh deep; it also swept the nuns’ store of firewood away. We were without power a few times, once for nearly two days. Sitting in one’s kuti listening to the trees thrashing around in the gales presented some anxious moments: in previous years, falling trees have smashed right through the roofs and walls of these small wooden huts. In 1987, a massive tree went through the stone wall of the Garden. So, in responding to the uncertainties that impermanence brings, one has both to watch the mind and take what precautions one can. And yet, unlike the case for many less fortunate people, in a monastery there really isn’t that much to disrupt. When you can’t phone out, you can’t receive calls; and when there’s no light you can’t read or work – so the monastic option is to draw a blanket around you, light a candle and meditate. Which is great. And when the storms passed, we all bundled out with a tractor, tackle and saws to clear the roads and the grounds, get more wood down to Rocana, and plant new trees.
As regards the more obviously fortunate happenings, one of them has been the Admission into the Bhikkhu Sangha of Ven. Tapassi on April 7th. Fittingly enough, as an anagārika he helped to place the markers that define the sīmā, and he was the first candidate to Go Forth within it. Another good sign is that the number of anagārikas is now four; and as there’s a number of men and women who wish to make that commitment, we’re wondering how many more we can take on. We estimate that a residency of about eighteen men (not including guests) is about our limit, and we’re at that now. So more change is due in terms of people moving around from time to time. This will certainly be the case during May, when we expect a number of senior bhikkhus to visit as part of the International Elders’ Meeting at Amaravati. So far we have booked Ajahn Kusalo (from New Zealand) and Ajahns Sudanto, Yatiko and Karunadhammo from America. We also heard that Luang Por Liem, Luang Por Jundee and Luang Por Pasanno are planning to visit us, and we very much hope that Luang Por Sumedho will also come down from Amaravati for a brief stay. And of course, we will be welcoming Ajahn Karuniko home from his retreat time in Asia. The residents change, yet the sense of community remains. Apart from a presentation of impermanence, all these changes in community present a perfect example of ‘not-self’. That is, individuals change; the wise response to the changes in the community is to ensure that the standards and the togetherness continue.
The fact of suffering or unsatisfactoriness is also something to take into account. One of the areas in which we’ve been looking into this over the past few years is in terms of catering for the needs of elderly, invalid or dying samanas. As a reminder, five of the current bhikkhu community are more than sixty years old. So we’ve started to get into action, by forming a group of samanas and lay supporters to focus on building special facilities, nursing care and liaising with professional health services. Our first meeting was on April 3rd, and we intend to keep you informed as to what ideas we have and also as to how you can help.
Of course dukkha also means that things are never quite ‘right’ and also that they are incomplete. However, from time to time, there are times of achievement, and it’s good to celebrate those. So on June 15th, our annual International Thod Pha Pa will be focusing on the completion of the covered walkway, a project that began eight years ago. As a sign of this, a finial (spire) has been created which will be mounted on top of the bell-tower and blessed with paritta chanting. The day will otherwise be a simple occasion, a chance to come together and meet as a large international community and to rejoice. We’re all part of the fact of Cittaviveka, a place where the home truths of life are the condition for happiness in this world and the Path to that which is beyond. Please come for a visit, you’re welcome!