Autumn 2011

As 2011 draws to a close, we can look back at what has been a rich and fertile year for the monastery in many respects. In terms of what it was first established for – the training in the Holy Life – there has been a blossoming. The accommodation for men has been full to the point of turning people away, as the ceiling of eighteen male monastics has bulged under the pressure of new monks and anagarikas; and for the first time that I can remember we have had to turn prospective lay guests away on account of a shortage of lodgings

In May, we had to provide tent accommodation for guests in order to suitable accommodate Luang Por Liem, Luang Por Anek, Ajahn Kevali and their party from Thailand. In a year in which the monastery’s connections to the living forest tradition in N.E. Thailand received a welcome boost, we also were pleased to receive Luang Por Sopha on three separate occasions, including one-day drop-ins for the Pha Pa and Kathina Alms-Giving Ceremonies. Then later in the year, we were further enriched with a visit from Tan Ajahn Pasanno from Abhayagiri, California – his first to Cittaviveka in seven years. The totally unflappable ease of these seasoned elders served as a precious reminder, in a time of global upheaval, of how the mind can be trained to deepen its roots way beyond the winds of praise and blame, gain and loss. Visitors such as these are an important source of enrichment for the community: other than their teachings and their presence, they also open a window to a wider community of those living the Holy Life. In the span and the diversity of the wider community lies both its depth and strength. By and large, isolated monasteries don’t flourish; rather like plants, monastic communities need cross-fertilization to keep them vigorous and adaptable

The theme of cross-fertilization and sharing resources has meant that members of our community have moved to other monasteries, just as other people have joined us. This is especially the theme of the nuns’ community, members of which have been moving between Amaravati and Cittaviveka on a regular basis throughout the year. I feel that this movement has been a healthy development, as it allows more of the sisters to gain an understanding of Rocana and also benefit from a change of scene. Now that the Rocana Vihara has been supplemented with its own free-standing new Aloka Shrine Room, it offers superb facilities for inner work and for living in seclusion. The nuns have established a routine whereby they offer Dhamma-reflections every Thursday evening, and have ‘dāna’ days every Tuesday, when there is no food cooked at the Vihara and the residents live on what is freely offered on that day. Of course we hope that as the nuns’ community grows they will be continually in residence, but currently the nuns’ decision is to all spend the Winter retreat at Amaravati.

A large shipment of books for free distribution, sponsored by friends in Malaysia, Singapore and Australia has also given us a bountiful stock of Dhamma material to give away. Of special note, with this being the twentieth anniversary of his death, is a beautifully-produced three-volume set of talks from Ven Ajahn Chah. The intention is to give these away to all who come in the period from Christmas through the beginning of the Winter Retreat. During this time, many senior monks and nuns from all over the world will be gathering at Wat Pah Nanachat and Wat Pah Pong to participate in ceremonies of commemoration and gratitude to Ajahn Chah. So those of you who are shivering through the UK Winter might like to make a note of that occasion – January 16th is the final and culminating day of the ceremonies – and come to the monastery in the evening, and/or commit to the Eight Precepts for the day, and give attention to Ajahn Chah’s teachings.

If you can’t come on that day, then please make a note of the New Year’s Eve Celebration. This will include a vigil through midnight at the end of an evening focused on ‘clearing the past and welcoming the present.’ Then on January 1st there will be a chance to renew a commitment to the Three Refuges and Five Precepts. By taking Refuge, and by living it out in terms of moral integrity and meditation, one steadily deepens the mind to arrive at the ground that the worldly winds don’t reach. In this way a wise practitioner unburdens their mind. The turbulence of world events this year must have affected everyone, so we encourage and welcome everyone to make good use of the space, the occasion and the teachings to find their firm and compassionate centre.

You are welcome to join us meditating in the Dhamma Hall throughout the three-month period of the Winter retreat. When I return from Thailand in mid-January I expect to continue giving teachings on Saturday evenings and on various mornings during the week (please see the monastery noticeboard for details).

Meanwhile as Winter approaches and fuel bills climb, it’s pleasing to note that we have been able to increase our low-cost/no cost and ‘green’ sources for energy production. At Chithurst House, we have been using a wood-fired boiler to heat the house and Dhamma Hall and provide hot water for showers for a number of years; now a recent replacement of the oil-fired boiler with a system using wood-pellets is keeping Aloka Cottage and the Aloka Shrine Room warm in an ecologically sound way. We have also installed solar panels on the roof of Rocana, and are in the process of establishing the same for Chithurst House. The wood for the House boiler comes from our own woodland (again gallantly gathered and stacked as part of this year’s Forest Work month). As we also derive much of our water from our own well, our utility bills are also kept low.

However, at this time with increased VAT, increased health and safety requirements and a lower Gift Aid rate, the only area in which the monastery is not rich is the financial one. Although we have made headways on reducing our bills with these economical investments and careful budgeting, this is a large property, with buildings that require continual maintenance. Building work and maintenance of the estate takes up 70 percent of all income with insurance, legal costs, transport and utilities using most of the rest (Sangha welfare takes up about 3 percent). So all contributions towards the upkeep of the facilities are welcome, and hopefully a worthwhile ‘investment!’ May it continue to pay dividends in terms of the welfare and sanity of many beings!

With best wishes for your growth in Dhamma,

Ajahn Sucitto