The winter retreat here has supported an atmosphere of calm, of steady effort which has been very beneficial. With a resident support group of eleven or so people, along with others dropping in for the day to meditate or to help out, it has also felt like a good time for the wider Dhamma-community. There’s an inspiring matter-of-factness about the way in which the monastery receives its support and its supporters: requisites arrive on a daily basis (sometimes via a grocer’s delivery van or by people walking in with a box of candles and a cheque) and with equal familiarity people turn up, grab a meditation cushion and get on with their practice. One morning we noticed a car parked in the field to find out that its owner had driven over from the Winchester region to get to the early morning sitting. Having found the monastery entrance blocked by the ‘vandal-defence’ posts, he’d driven in the back way across the meadows to get to the 4:30 am-6:00 am sitting. Dhamma clearly means a lot to an increasing number of folk.
And so, as we come out of our winter retreat, there’s a flurry of requests for groups to come to the monastery or for us to travel and teach. By mid-January I had teaching invitations to Ireland, Wales, Italy, Slovenia, Serbia, Hungary and Romania, on top of the bookings that had been made last year. Although it’s unlikely that I’ll be able to respond to these personally I hope that other Sangha members can pick them up. With Ajahn Karuniko returning from his three-month sabbatical in Sri Lanka, Thailand and Malaysia and Ajahn Gavesako joining the community in March, there is potential teaching capacity.
However there are a good amount of responsibilities on the home front. We have a Wesak celebration on May 28th, which we’ve timed to coincide with the visits of Luangpor Liem and Luangpor Anek, two of the most senior monks of the Ajahn Chah lineage. Luangpor Liem is the abbot of Wat Pah Pong and is renowned for his ability to remain unflappable in the midst of a scenario which is quite chaotic; known also to be a man of few words, he can yet give deep and penetrative discourses when called upon. He and Luangpor Anek have many duties looking after not just their own monasteries but the affairs of over two hundred monasteries in Thailand. Therefore it is rare that they leave Thailand – they were last here in 1999 and may not come again – so I strongly encourage people to come and meet them between 25th and 28th May.
On May 29th there will be a commemoration in memory of Barry Durrant, founder of the Maidstone Buddhist group and long-term supporter of the monastery. As he passed away quite suddenly in February there wasn’t the opportunity for a full occasion that would allow his many friends to gather. Of course, in accordance with his wishes, the ceremony will be quiet and simple, but it does feel appropriate to have a time when all who knew him to gather. If you’d like any details, please contact Rocana on 01483 761398.
On June 19th there will be the yearly International Thod Pha Pa, which promises to be more jubilant than quiet. As usual, the reason for the event is to generate a sense of community, centred on the Triple Gem. Funds will be raised for the ongoing cloister/covered walkway. As visitors will note, the wooden framework now reaches around to the gateway to the Walled Garden, but without tiling, provided negligible shelter from the rain. So the aim this year will be to sponsor the tiling which volunteers will then be able to fit on the roof.
This summer there will also be a forest work week from July 2nd to July 9 th. This occasion, with lay volunteers and Sangha members engaged in various conservation projects, as well as with meditation and informative guided tours, was a great success last year. Undoubtedly the benign weather was great asset; and we hope that the weather devas will smile upon our efforts this time around. So if you’re interested, please contact ‘Forest Work’ at the monastery; the session begins with an orientation and guided tour on the evening of Friday 1st July.
After that we have a bhikkhu ordination on July 10th perhaps the last of the ‘open-air’ ordinations at Cittaviveka, as we are in the process of moving the sima (ordination precinct) into the Dhamma Hall where it can be used on a more regular basis for Sanghakamma. As two of the candidates will be members of this community, we expect to have a fairly full contingent for the Vassa.
As you may know, the nuns’ community left Cittaviveka to gather at Amaravati for the Winter retreat and we expect a small group to return to Rocana Vihara in May. Ajahn Kovida has dropped in for a visit and expects to again, but currently is undertaking a wandering lifestyle interspersed with teaching engagements. Sr Jotipañña is walking the St John de Compostella pilgrimage route. Meanwhile from the monks’ side of things, Ven Dhammarakkho will also be undertaking a more extensive tudong lifestyle during the spring, and before the Vassa begins on 16th July, it’s likely that samanas will be going off in ones and twos to bring the mendicant life back to the open road of this country.
As far as statistics go, this Vassa will be my 19th as Abbot of Cittaviveka, which I’ve been associated with since its inception 32 years ago. During this time the monastery has grown and developed in terms of its buildings, its woodland, and above all its relevance as a place for people to Go Forth as monks and nuns. That it can do so also highlights another obvious fact: that it means a lot to a lot of people who care to support it. Sometimes people don’t know how best to do that, but it’s really as simple as turning up with that intention in mind. All skills start from the base of something amazing about humans: our sense of empathy and love of the good.