Newsletter – Winter 2020

Dear Friends,


Sitting down to write this newsletter, I’m struck by how quickly time has passed since the last one was sent out – six months seems to have flown by. Gone are the warm days, bright green leaves and colourful flowers. Yet in their place are the earthy tones of late autumn, the stark outline of tree branches and the long shadows of winter sunshine. Many people comment that all four seasons in this part of the world have their own beauty. I certainly think so.


Much has changed within the resident community here over the last while. After serving as abbot for the past five years, Ajahn Karuniko departed on November 4th for a year away. He will begin his travels with a few months in Asia before moving into the Southern Hemisphere. Next summer and into autumn he plans to be in North America. During the decades of service he offered to this monastery, he provided a fine example of how to live the life of a spiritual seeker. We delight in the opportunity he has to continue his spiritual practice in various places, and step back from the myriad duties he so diligently covered over the years, but at the same time we look forward to his planned return next November.. The day before he departed, the role of abbot was passed on to me. I can’t thank Ajahn Karuniko enough for how skilfully he brought me up to speed with the various things that need attention here. A testament to his skill is shown by the relatively small number of times I’ve had to email or telephone him for help. He provides excellent ‘tech support’!


There have been a number of other changes in the community. Venerable Phasuko completed his fifth year as a monk, and since moved to a small hermitage in Slovenia to continue his monk’s life in a different setting. Ajahn Gandhasilo is planning to leave in early January for an extended stay in Thailand. He has lived there before for long spells, so this is a return to familiar territory for him.


In August, John, James and Alex joined the resident community as anagārikas (white-robed postulants), as did Jamie in the middle of December. Their commitment to spend a year here living under the Eight Precepts indicates how much interest there is for people to spend a period of time deepening their spiritual practice, and live in a community with an enhanced ethical framework.


After spending a year at Santacittarama Monastery near Rome, Italy, Venerable Pemasilo, a familiar face around here, returned to Cittaviveka on December 19th. Samanera Sucinno, from Aruna Ratanagiri Monastery in Northumberland, has recently joined us for this year’s Winter Retreat.


The women’s community, guided by Ajahn Cittapala, has also seen a few changes. Sister Kittiñani recently left us after nearly a year of residence, with plans to spend the winter in Thailand and then re-join the Siladhara community at Amaravati Monastery in the spring. After spending several months living at Cittaviveka, Anagārikā Noriko returned to Amaravati in early December. In their place we are joined by Sister Tejasa, Anagārikā Miki and Anagārikā Annamari.


Ajahn Sucitto resided here for most of 2019, but has also taken some time away for teaching engagements in various countries. We are fortunate to have him here as a Guiding Elder.


In recent months we have also seen changes in our much-valued lay support team. After a couple of years with us, Ed Midmore handed over the role of Forest Manager to Chris Matthews. Chris helped lead this year’s annual Forest Work Month, involving a group of around ten volunteers who helped prepare the monastery’s wood fuel and care for our beautiful woodland. Sam Ford, who has been our much-appreciated Maintenance Committee Chairman for many, many years, has stepped down from that role. We now welcome in Peter Stenning as our new Chairman for the Maintenance Committee. Sam is still living down the lane, and continues to support us in a variety of ways, so we haven’t said ‘goodbye’ to him – just ‘Thank you’! Come January we will also be wishing well to our Maintenance Manager, Gary Stratten, who has been a great support and member of the community during his time with us. We also wish to extend our good wishes to our live-in Caretaker, Bruce Dudley, who is planning to leave in January. To all of these people, we offer our warmhearted thanks for the skillful and valuable support that they have brought here.


The annual Winter Retreat is scheduled to begin in the evening on January 5th, and continue through until March 31st. There will be different routines over these three months, with periods of group meditation practice as well as times of a more open schedule, including opportunities for the fulltime resident community to be on solitary retreat. Although we do not have overnight guest visits, day visitors are thoroughly welcome to join in with the meditation routine, as well as participate in the meal-offering. It is good to note, however, that the monastic community will be much less engaging, this being our opportunity to lay aside some of our duties and deepen the reflective side of our path to peace. Closer to January, and during the retreat, please visit our website for more details about the schedule. As in years past, the retreat is generously supported on the practical level by a team of lay people, who come to live with us for those three months.


During the Winter Retreat, there are two events on our monastic calendar. On January 16th we will commemorate Ajahn Chah’s 28th death anniversary. This day of reflecting on our teacher will culminate in a late-night meditation vigil, including a circumambulation of the Ajahn Chah Stupa carrying candles, incense and flowers. The second event is Magha Puja on February 8th. This day commemorates a gathering held between the Buddha and 1,250 of his earliest disciples, during which the basic framework of the monastic discipline was expounded. As with Ajahn Chah’s death anniversary, we will circumambulate the Stupa during a late-night vigil.


Mid-February should see the completion of the Bhikkhu Vihara, a new building that will provide much needed meeting spaces and bathing facilities for the male monastic community. Noel Wright, the architect, along with Flint Construction, the building contractors, continue to be a joy to work with. We greatly appreciate the patience our neighbours have exhibited, enduring a long period of increased traffic along the lane, and undoubtedly some construction noise. We wish to express our sincere apologies if it has had any negative impact.


Emerging from the Winter Retreat on April 1st, we plan to return to the ‘normal routine’ by once again being more active and engaged, as well as free to undertake periods of travelling, which we refrain from doing during the retreat. 


With support from the Cittaviveka Forest Committee, we hope to be offering the very first Cittaviveka Women’s Forest Work Weekend, which is planned to take place between April 30th and May 4th. We are very grateful to Alison Pitts, a member of our Forest Committee and retired ranger from the South Downs National Park, who has offered to lead this event for us.


Visakha Puja, which commemorates the birth, enlightenment and passing away of the Buddha, falls on May 6th, the full moon day. As with some of the other commemorations, we will circumambulate the Stupa during a late-night vigil. Cittaviveka Monastery’s celebration of these auspicious events in the Buddha’s life will be on the following Sunday, May 10th. The last event before our next newsletter will be the annual International Tort Pah Bah – or almsgiving ceremony – on Sunday, June 21st. 


Lastly, the Cittaviveka community wishes to extend our gratitude for all of the very generous support we receive from the broader community, our extended family. We offer our very best wishes to each and every one of you for a joyous holiday season, and may the New Year be lived with a pure and peaceful heart! 


Ajahn Ahimsako