Here at Cittaviveka the cold season—as this time of year is called in the Buddhist calendar—is upon us, as indicated by the lack of leaves on the trees and in contrast by the increased amount of clothing on the resident community. Another Vassa rains retreat has passed, marked this year by Ajahn Thitadhammo having completed 20 vassa and now being known as Maha Thera or Great Elder, and Ajahn Dhammarakkho who has completed 10 vassas and is now a Thera and also called Ajahn.
The community acknowledged Ajahn Thitadhammo's 20th vassa by choosing him to receive the Kathina robe this year. The cloth this year was special in that it was hand-woven and dyed in the North of Thailand and received the blessings of Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand. Two days after the Kathina Ceremony the Princess visited England and her kind gesture was reciprocated by her being presented with one of Ajahn Thitadhammo's beautiful drawings.
In November three monastics and several laymen worked hard in the forest for a few weeks cutting and stacking wood for our hungry wood burner that heats the house and Dhamma Hall, as well as doing other forest maintenance. There will be a forest work week in early July and anyone interested may contact Paul Bruce at the monastery.
The extensive work on the Mandalamala Nursing Kuti has gone well and should be completed by the end of the year.
On November 29th three novices took Upasampada or “full acceptance” into the Bhikkhu Sangha, one of which was Ven. Indapañño who has been resident at Cittaviveka for most of the last 2 years. And in early December Andrew took the 8 precepts to begin his monastic training as an anagarika.
Ajahn Sucitto will be in residence at Cittaviveka for the first couple of weeks in April after which he will be off teaching in America, returning in mid-June to join us for the Vassa.
Ajahn Ariyasilo came to Cittaviveka in November having spent the last few years in the antipodes. He will be spending 6 months on personal retreat in a forest kuti.The regular monthly visits by senior nuns have been appreciated. Though the nuns will not be able to visit during the winter retreat, their visits will begin again in April and the dates will be posted on the website and on the monastery notice board.
Fred and Ulrike returned to the Netherlands after 18 months of valuable service to the monastery, Fred helping with maintenance and Ulrike looking after Aloka Vihara and female guests. We wish them well in their continuing life in Dhamma. We now have a new maintenance man, David, and Hannah has taken on Ulrike's role. Maud continues to be caretaker of Rocana Vihara and oversees the maintenance work at Aloka and Rocana Viharas. Their contributions are much appreciated.
These days there seems to be a lot of negative news in the media that may trigger off righteous anger. There may also be situations or people in our daily lives that trigger off anger or ill will. The Buddha encouraged us not to carry such thoughts around with us and as is quoted in the Dhammapada: "Hatred does not cease through hatred, but only through non-hatred." This teaching is not saying we should love those people who do foolish and harmful things, but if we do carry around such thoughts we will strengthen negative traits in the mind which will only conduce to our unhappiness and increase ill will in the world. So if we notice righteous anger or ill will in the mind, the Buddha encouraged us to turn our attention to something wholesome. Though the news doesn't seem to report it much, there are good things happening in the world and with careful attention we can notice there are good characteristics in people and supportive situations. A period of quiet sitting and mindful breathing in and out can also help to calm and clear the mind. Admittedly this may not be an easy task, but one that is well worth the effort.
Talking of which, we will be having our usual New Year’s Eve meditation vigil, an opportunity to begin the year on a peaceful note. Then on New Year’s Day we have the Precept Ceremony, the opportunity to take the 3 Refuges and 5 Precepts and bring forth the skillful intention to live by those virtuous guidelines that are dear to the noble-hearted.
The community will begin the winter retreat on January 6th and this will last until the end of March. Though the sangha will be more in silence during this period, people are most welcome to join in the meal offerings at 10.30 am and the group meditation sessions. The Saturday night talks will continue, there will be some meditation guidance on the first Sunday of the month, but no sangha members hosting Sunday teatimes. A cooking rota will be posted on the notice board in the foyer of the Dhamma Hall for those who may wish to offer some help with the morning food preparation.
May good will be the preoccupation of the mind and heart over Xmas and New Year, by giving careful attention to things that promote good will. And may our virtue and kindness be our protection from harm and give us strength of mind to deal skillfully with whatever challenges may lie in the year ahead.