The Sangha emerged from the Winter Retreat to a beautiful spring. The blossoms seemed particularly more prolific this year, as though nature was expressing appreciation of our practice during the winter months. Even the heating system, which can often go wrong in the winter months, behaved itself.
In May, most of the Sangha went to join for Luang Por Sumedho's retreat at Amaravati. It was attended by many monastics and lay people. The Amaravati Temple was full to the brim with 325 people, with others watching in the Sala on a live video screen. One had to admire those who were staying in tents, as it was quite a cold and wet week. Luang Por Sumedho gave the evening talks and other senior monastics gave morning reflections and hosted Q&A at tea-time. There was much appreciation expressed to the Amaravati Sangha for all their hard work and the organisation of such an auspicious and harmonious gathering.
The retreat was followed by the International Elders Meeting (IEM). More senior monastics arrived for this from all over the globe and in total there were around 120 monks, nuns and novices in attendance. Over the 5 days of the IEM, the various Elders and non-Elders met in groups and shared their thoughts on various topics that had been suggested. There was also time for old friends to meet and have informal discussions. The meetings I took part in very much echoed the Buddha's wish for the Sangha to come together in harmony and disperse in harmony. And again the organisers did a great job.
In May, Paul Bruce relinquished his work as the monastery maintenance man—a position he had held for the past 11 years. He wishes to devote more of his time to conservation work and has found suitable work in Shropshire. He has also been the Forest Manager during this time and will also be relinquishing this role after the Forest Week in July. We are most grateful to Paul for his immense contribution and the friendly manner in which he went about doing things. We will miss having him around and hearing his jovial laugh.
On 11th June we had our annual Thod Pah Pa, which was particularly special this year due to the presence of Luang Por Liem and other senior monks from Thailand joining us for the occasion. The weather was very kind to us and it was a joyful occasion which raised £15,000 to go towards the renovation of the monks’ utility building (MUB) which we hope to be able to get planning permission for before the end of the year.
On 9th July we will begin this year’s vassa (rains retreat) during which time the monastics determine not to change residence for three months. This year there will be 10 monks and 5 novices on the male side and 2 nuns and 1 novice on the female side. Ven. Ajahn Sucitto will enter the vassa in August, as will Sister Ajahn Cittapala and a female novice.
Ajahn Cittapala will be offering teachings on most Tuesday evenings during this time at the Aloka Shrine Room and dates will be posted on the monastery notice board as well as the website. There will also be the weekly Thursday Dana offering at Rocana Vihara. We will begin the vassa with a week of group meditation practice from 10th to 16th July and during the vassa, until 6th October, we will be having midnight meditation vigils on the new and full moon evenings. You are most welcome to come and meditate with us. The usual Saturday and Sunday evening teachings will continue, as will the monthly Lay Forums.
Anagarika Revato took the pabbajja (“going forth”) on 24th June and is now called Samanera Jayadhammo. On the afternoon of 19th August, Samanera Dhirabodhi will be taking the Upasampada, the ceremony of acceptance into the Bhikkhu Sangha at Cittaviveka. Ven. Ajahn Amaro will be coming from Amaravati Monastery to act as Upajjhaya (“preceptor”).
There may be occasions in life when angry and displeased people approach us, using abusive and harsh words. There was an incident in the life of the Buddha when he was approached by an angry Brahmin in such a manner. When the Brahmin had finished his tirade, the Buddha asked him if he ever invited friends and relatives to his house for a meal. The Brahmin replied that yes, he did. The Buddha then asked: if the guests do not accept the food then who would the food belong to? The Brahmin replied that the food would still belong to him. The Buddha then explained that, in the same way, he does not accept this abuse the Brahmin had offered him and so it still belongs to the Brahmin, just as would the meal if no one was to partake of it. The Buddha then went on to say that those who reciprocate by being abusive back to an abuser, make things worse for themselves, while those who do not reciprocate "win a battle hard to win". One is practising for the welfare of both oneself and others if one is mindfully able to maintain one's peace. The Buddha also said that those unskilled in Dhamma may consider us weak or foolish for not retaliating. It may be compassionate to consider that in this day and age the high levels of confusion and stress may contribute to people's aggressive behaviour and that people can change with the changing circumstances of their lives.
Peaceful and natural surroundings, like we have at the monastery, are very supportive environments for the strengthening of wholesome qualities such as mindfulness and wise reflection. This is the kind of meal the Buddha would encourage us to partake of.