Newsletter – Winter 2020-21
We are all aware that this past year has been challenging in ways that were unforeseen and unwanted, and the difficulties encountered have not yet subsided. Our lives as people cultivating a spiritual path are centred around developing a heart and mind that transcends the ups and downs of life. This past year has certainly provided us with plenty of ‘grist for the mill’; quite enough ‘ups and downs’!
Monastery Closing and Reopening
Understandably, the main questions we frequently get asked are related to whether or not we’re open to the public. From 23 July through until 5 November we were open for a few hours each day around the time of the midday meal, and it was delightful to see people back in the Dhamma Hall. We had decided to eat our meal elsewhere so that, after we offered the traditional chants for the meal-offering, people would have more quiet time in that lovely space, and many people took the opportunity to come and sit in meditation.
When the latest national lockdown went into effect, we decided to close again. Yes, legally we could have remained open for silent, individual visits. However, for the wellbeing of both visitors and residents alike we thought it best to close. When we’ll open again is still uncertain. For sure it will only be when we feel it’s safe. So why all of the caution and restrictions that go beyond what the government asks? This is a big and good question. Our monastic communities don’t fit well into any category. Are we a ‘place of worship’; a school; a residential home; a care home …? Being a place of worship where we also live means that we need to operate in a way that protects our residents, several of whom fall within one of the ‘vulnerable’ categories. This is why, when we were open to the public, the areas within which people could wander and enter were very limited. How things will change over the next year remains to be seen. Please rest assured that we do review the situation regularly as a monastic community, and look forward to welcoming people back to share this special place. Please check the monastery website for regular updates.
After our first foray into the world of online teachings, at our Kathina Festival in October, because of the generosity of several donors we now have our own live-streaming equipment, and are able to offer online teachings on a regular basis. At this time, we are streaming a weekly guided meditation on Wednesday at 7.30pm, as well as the full and new moon Lunar Observance Night gatherings, which include chanting, meditation, the request to reaffirm the Eight Precepts and a Dhamma talk. If you’re interested, perhaps you would like to subscribe to our YouTube channel at https://m.youtube.com/channel/UCP8UpUUNoK3vO_UgTbukdbQ
Since last April, the monthly Cittaviveka Lay Forum, which is normally held here at the monastery on the first Sunday of each month from April through December, was presented online using Zoom. Tony Halter, who had been facilitating the forum for some years, got the online version of the forum up and running, and only recently handed over the role of facilitator to Sid Beardmore. We wish to express our gratitude to Tony for his years of overseeing this valuable gathering, and to Sid for taking up the reins. The Lay Forum should restart again in April, either physically here at the monastery or online. But our hunch is that we will be gathering in cyberspace for some months to come. The benefit of this is that people are able to join in from all corners of the globe. It has been inspiring to see people ‘gathering’ from a large variety of places, and benefitting from the wholesome practice of reflecting on Dhamma as a group.
As we experienced in 2020, festival days simply didn’t happen, apart from celebrating Kathina with a small handful of people on site and offering it online as a live-steam video. Will 2021 be any different? Well, we simply can’t say at this point in time. What we can say is that we now have the ability to offer an online experience of these important days. With that in mind, we plan to hold our Wesak Celebration on Sunday 23 May. This day acknowledges the birth, enlightenment and final passing away of the Buddha. The other large gathering that traditionally happens here each year is the International Tort Pah Bah – or almsgiving ceremony – which is typically held in June. At the moment it’s very uncertain as to whether or not it will take place, but we’ll keep you informed.
This is an excellent opportunity to express our gratitude to everyone who has been supporting us in various ways. Even with in-person visits much reduced, we have been fully supplied with needed requisites. People living nearby have come over and dropped things off, and the online delivery vans make regular visits. They probably don’t even need to use their in-vehicle satellite navigation systems!
For nine months of the year, we typically welcome overnight guests who spend anywhere between a few days to a few weeks or more with us, joining in with the routines. Well, ‘typically’ went out the window when the pandemic arrived. Amazingly, we have been beautifully supported by a steady and slowly changing group of dedicated lay people who have (and are) generously offering their time and skills, staying here for a minimum of two months. Many people have stayed for several months, and even some for up to a year. To each and every one of these kind-hearted people we to express our gratitude!
Eugene and Mudita
On 2 September, Eugene Gebler, our master gardener here at the monastery for many years, sadly and suddenly died of a stroke. During the years of living here at Cittaviveka, as well as in a cottage down the lane, Eugene was a regular, warm and welcome presence. His easy-going temperament and good sense of humour was well-known, and he is greatly missed. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, three separate memorial ceremonies took place. It was clear from people’s reflections on Eugene’s life that he was a much-loved person. The memorial stone laid by an oak tree planted in his memory sums up well his way of living: ‘Easy come, easy go.’ His life was lived in an easy manner, and his death was swift and unexpected. Thank you, Eugene!
Our dear friend and neighbour Mudita passed away in Bangkok on 6 December, after a short period of illness. Although born and raised in Thailand, she was not really interested in practising Buddhism. Her visit to the Hampstead Vihara in London in the late 1970s and meeting the Western monks there changed her life completely. She went to meet Ajahn Chah and became a devoted disciple. In 1992 she moved to the Hamilton Arms in Stedham to be close to the monastery and to support the Sangha. She also organized the making of the white Buddha statue in the Cittaviveka Dhamma Hall by inviting a renowned artist from Thailand. For the last 27 years she has organized charity events to support poor and disadvantaged children in Thailand through her Mudita Trust. She will be missed by the Thai community in England where she was well-known for her involvement in many cultural activities. Luang Por Sumedho attended her funeral ceremony in Bangkok.
The Monastic Community
With travel all but non-existent, the resident community has been very stable over the past year. However, just in the last few months we have welcomed a few new monks and nuns. November saw three members of the male monastic community either return to or join us. Samanera Abhassaro, a novice monk who has been living at Arrow River Forest Hermitage near Thunder Bay, Canada, arrived on 18 November. Just a few days later, Ajahn Karuniko re-joined us after spending a little over a year away living elsewhere. After a few months in Asia, he spent nine months in Australia, mostly at Bodhivana Monastery near Melbourne. We’re very happy to see him back here! On the same day, Venerable Bhuripañño arrived from Thailand. Originally from Brisbane, Australia, he has spent the past six years training at Wat Pah Nanachat and other branch monasteries in Thailand and Australia. Jamie Gorman, who was here for a year as an Anagarika, decided to return to his life in the Republic of Ireland, departing on 4 December. We wish him well as he pursues his varied interests, and explores life outside of the monastic form.
From the nuns’ community, Anagarika Margit spent the Vassa (Rains Retreat) with us, and has now returned to Amaravati. Sister Tejasa has been living at Cittaviveka for a year now, and is planning to return to Amaravati later in December. Both of these people shared their goodhearted and generous presence with us, and we wish them well as they continue their journey along the Path. Arrivals at the nuns’ community include Ajahn Upekkha who has had a long-standing association with our communities. For many years she has been living in India, and earlier this year returned to the UK due to the pandemic. She hopes to go back to India, but in the meantime, we are very happy to have her here. Sister Sunanda, from Amaravati, is scheduled to arrive here in mid-December, which will be a welcome support for Ajahn Cittapala.
On behalf of the Cittaviveka community, I’ll close by wishing each and every one of you all good wishes,