Newsletter – Winter 2021-22
Dear Friends of Cittaviveka, warm greetings,
At the time of writing this newsletter, everyone here in the Cittaviveka community is doing well. We’re in that period of the year between the end of the traditional summer Rains Retreat and the Winter Retreat – typically the months of November and December – when members of the monastic community take the opportunity to travel. Travel tends to fall into three broad categories: either visiting another monastery, spending time with family or, for more senior monks and nuns, going to offer Dhamma teachings such as meditation retreats. Travel of just about any sort has been greatly curtailed over the past 22 months, and we all know why. However, as travel restrictions were lifted, this year there has been much more movement of community members.
This October we had our first significant visit by an Elder from one of our cluster of monasteries. Ajahn Vajiro, abbot of Sumedharama Monastery in Portugal, visited us for two weeks, and was present for our Kathina Festival on 7 November. This was the first time we’ve had a visiting Elder stay overnight since the pandemic began. It was a delight to be able to host someone in this way again. For many of the junior, newer members of the community, it was the first time they’d met Ajahn Vajiro.
There had been plans to have a visit by Luang Por Sumedho for six days in September. However, a small but significant outbreak of Covid-19 arrived in our midst (see below for more on this), and sadly his visit needed to be cancelled. We sincerely hope to invite him here in the not-too-distant future.
Changes within the community that have occurred since the last newsletter include the 26 September Pabbajjā or Novice Going Forth Ceremony for Anagārikas Gabriel and Kosta, who are now known as Sāmaneras Ñānatejo and Kataññuto. On 27 November, an Anagārika Precept Ceremony was held here for Thomas and Christopher, both of whom had been serving the community as long-term guests since last April. Lastly, the nuns’ community currently has two anagārikās, Anagārikās Noriko and Ariyasara, both recently arrived from Amaravati.
This time of year, we’re seeing members of the monastic community move to different monasteries in preparation for the Winter Retreat period. Venerable Sīhanādo has already travelled north to Aruna Ratanagiri Monastery. Sāmaneras Indavīro and Ñānatejo plan to spend the winter at Amaravati and Sumedharama respectively, and Venerables Khemadassī and Kosallo will be returning to Amaravati, their original community. Ajahn Upekkha and Sister Kittiñāni have left the community to spend time more independently, and Anagārikā Evgeniia has returned to Amaravati to continue her monastic training there.
On the arrivals side, Venerable Dhīrabodhi recently returned from spending approximately a year and a half at Sumedharama Monastery.
This year we were able to hold a full-scale Kathina Festival on 7 November. Unlike last year, there were no limitations on how many people could attend. The only restriction was on the number of visitors allowed into the Dhamma Hall. The gloriously sunny and warm weather made it possible to hold nearly all of the festivities outdoors. It is estimated that between four and five hundred people attended this auspicious event. Many people expressed their joy at being able to once again participate in a gathering of this sort. It certainly was a day of harmony and generosity. We are very grateful for all of the warm-hearted and generous support we received. Having had a safe and successful gathering of this nature, we now feel confident that we can hold future events with ease.
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. Ajahn Sucitto has been offering several retreats online, hosted by groups in various parts of the globe. For information on available online teachings and retreats, please visit www.cittaviveka.org/upcoming-livestreams
From early January though until the start of April, Cittaviveka will be observing the annual three-month Winter Retreat. This is a precious opportunity for our resident community to step back from most activities in order to focus inwards. At present we’re not clear about how much visitor access will be available during those months. Much will depend on how the pandemic is going. As always, please check our website for up-to-date information on our opening times and accessible areas. Better yet, please consider signing up for our news announcements by subscription email at https://www.cittaviveka.org/subscribe Please note that we plan to continue with our current schedule of online teachings throughout the retreat period.
There’s a phrase in one of the chants we frequently do here, ‘My very life is sustained through the gifts of others.’ I find this to be a powerful reflection. These very lives of ours – as spiritual seekers in this tradition – are kept going by the kindness, thoughtfulness and generosity of other human beings. We as a community wish to express our gratitude for this amazing support.
The Covid-19 Pandemic
As mentioned above, many of you may be aware that we had a small and manageable outbreak of Covid-19 here at the monastery during September. We greatly appreciate all of the care and support we received, and for people’s understanding when we felt the need to close the monastery during that time of uncertainty. We learned a lot about how to cope with this virus in a way that is safe for both visitors and residents alike.
Our current opening hours are from 10 am until 5 pm. From Monday through Friday, access is limited to the Dhamma Hall, gardens and toilets only. On Saturdays and Sundays, the meal-offering takes place in the cloister covered-walkway. As has been done these last few months, on weekends we’re sharing the food offerings with day visitors who are welcome to use the Conservatory and Shrine Room in the main house for eating their meal. Every day of the week, 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.
The Cittaviveka community continues to ponder how we can edge towards returning to the routines and access that was enjoyed before the pandemic arrived. It’s clear that we are taking a cautious approach. With approximately thirty-five residents and frequent day visitors, we don’t want to make decisions that would unnecessarily place anyone at risk.
Nearly two years on from when we first heard the words ‘Covid-19’, many of us may find that a good portion of our attention is still taken up with adjusting our lives to the changing conditions associated with the pandemic. One thing I’ve found helpful to reflect on is that conditions are always changing, all of them. Things are either changing slowly, quickly or somewhere in between those two extremes. We tend (for obvious reasons) to accept and embrace changes that we like. That’s natural. But from a Dhamma perspective, recognizing change and how it affects us – through developing mindfulness and awareness – is our escape route from the stress that can arise when things aren’t as we want them to be, or when things are as we wish but we’re afraid that our situation will change for the worse. If we can mindfully experience change with an open heart, and allow uncontrollable change to unfold, we can live our lives freely, without fear of changing conditions. This, then, helps us along the path to realizing unconditional peace; the peace that the Buddha was pointing to.
With very good wishes,
Abbot — Chithurst Buddhist Monastery