Throughout this year we have been remembering Venerable Ajahn Chah as 2018 marks the hundredth year since his birth. In January at Wat Nong Pa Pong there was a larger than usual gathering of around several thousand Sangha and laypeople. On account of Venerable Ajahn Chah's world-wide popularity, many different countries were represented at that gathering – so this year there were regular talks in English. Even though the gathering was large, it was peaceful and friendly; and there was plenty of food for all – a testimony to the generosity of the Thai people as well as those from the international community. Then, back at Cittaviveka we regularly offered readings from Venerable Ajahn Chah's simple yet profound teachings throughout the Winter Retreat.
The annual Thord Pah Pa gathering at Cittaviveka happened to coincide with Venerable Ajahn Chah's hundredth birthday on June 17th; it was coincidentally also Father's Day. We all gathered at the Bodhinyana Stupa, which contains Venerable Ajahn Chah's ashes, to express our respects and gratitude for his teaching and example. On this occasion, we were honoured to have the presence of Venerable Ajahn Sucitto, as well as of Venerable Ajahn Kalyano from Buddha Bodhivana monastery in Melbourne. A generous donor also sponsored six books of Venerable Ajahn Chah's teachings to be distributed at our various monasteries on this special day.
For the male community the Vassa will begin with ten bhikkhus, a samanera and four anagarikas. However, on September 1st Anagarika Alejandro and Anagarika Richard will become samaneras, and later in the month, on September 27th, Samanera Gāravo will be taking Upasampadā to become a bhikkhu. With regard to the female community, Sister Ajahn Cittapala and two anagarikās will be in residence at the Rocana Vihara for the Vassa. Sister will be offering regular Dhamma Talks and the dates for these and Dana days are posted on the website and monastery notice board. We are also pleased to announce that Sister Ajahn Cittapala will be in residence at Rocana Vihara for the foreseeable future. During the Vassa, the community make the determination to stay in the same monastery for the three months, this then becomes a highly suitable time for in-depth study of our Vinaya discipline.
This year we will begin the ‘Vihara project’ – that is to rebuild the existing makeshift ablutions and bowl-washing area, and to create a meeting room for the monks and a day room for the forest dwellers on retreat. This will allow the downstairs of the house to be used by the increasing number of guests and visitors to the monastery. The bowl-washing area is scheduled to start in September, and the second phase of the project will continue as funds are donated. The expected completion of these facilities next year will coincide with the fortieth anniversary of the founding of the monastery. Information about the project is on the monastery website under the heading ‘Support’ and click on ‘Vihara’. A report on the Cittaviveka Finances is also on the website under ‘Support’.
Another project that will need to be undertaken in the next few years concerns the Hammer Wood where repair of the leaks in the dam and the dredging of the lake need to be accomplished. We do not wish our beautiful lake to become a bog! At present our Forest and Maintenance team are investigating how to undertake this work and also what it will cost.
Last May we were pleasantly surprised to receive a well-wishing letter from the Prime Minister Theresa May wishing us a Happy Vesak and expressing appreciation for the Buddha's teachings and the contribution Buddhist communities are making to improve our society. I am mentioning this not because I think people should vote Conservative but because it is pleasing to know that the Buddha and his teachings are being acknowledged as something of value in government circles.
There are the usual comings and goings in the monastery. Ajahn Sucitto is away in America until December, and Ven. Kondañño, Ven Aruno and Samanera Jayadhammo have gone away for indefinite periods. After 18 months serving at Aloka cottage our hard-working and thoughtful women’s guest assistant, Fiona, is moving on this month. The Cittaviveka Sangha is most appreciative of all their contributions to life at Cittaviveka.
Venerable Ajahn Chah was known to often make the statement 'not certain’ – in Thai ‘mai naehr' – to encourage us to reflect on the changing and uncertain nature of life. The aim of this was to lessen the tendency we have to cling to things being a certain way. In monastic life it is a teaching we have to take to heart if we wish to be more at peace and less anxious about the comings and goings in the community. Can we be less anxious about the political uncertainties of our time? Even when making plans do we reflect that there is always an element of 'not certain'? For instance, on one occasion I was travelling to the monastery from Manchester. I arrived at Waterloo station to discover trains were delayed for an hour due to signalling problems. It was a bit disappointing but I could accept the situation without getting upset or blaming anybody; I could just patiently wait. While I was stood waiting on the station a well-dressed man with a briefcase came up to me looking quite distressed and said: ‘You might be at peace with this, but I want to wring somebody's neck!’
So there is suffering and blame whenever we expect things to go according to our wishes and don’t reflect on the 'not certain' nature of life. But if we take the words of our teachers to heart we can more peacefully adapt to the unexpected.
With Best Wishes in Dhamma