As we approach the end of yet another year, I would like to express appreciation for all the kind support. This year, donations have been adequate to cover our running costs. (It takes about £10,000 a month in costs to run the monastery despite our frugal living and use of our own wood to heat the main house and Dhamma Hall).The monastery also continues its policy of not buying food and just using what people offer; and it’s great to report that thirty plus sangha and laypeople are kept suitably nourished by the offerings at the mealtime. Sometimes the larder can look a little lean on fruit and vegetables but then it seems to miraculously fill up with the food given by visitors and the online food deliveries that people send. All this is a true testimonial to the beautiful dāna culture that Buddhism embraces.
The Vassa (Rains) passed well. During this year’s Rains, Venerable Dhīrabodhi took Upasampadā (bhikkhu precepts) and Richard took the anagarika precepts. The Vassa was followed by the Kathina Ceremony; it was a joyful occasion thanks to all the care, thoughtfulness and hard work of Sriyani, Malie, Chandi and Dhammika.
Ajahn Narado returns this month after spending a year supporting our branch monastery in Wellington, New Zealand, and Ajahn Dhammarakkho returns from Ireland. In terms of departures, Ajahn Sucitto is away until April, Ven. Akiñcano has gone to support Dhammagiri Monastery in Brisbane, Australia (for a year), while Ven. Pemasilo and Samanera Jayadhammo will be spending the winter retreat at Amaravati. Ajahn Cittapala will be here for most of the winter retreat and periodically from April to July. Her dates will be posted on the notice board and website.
Next year the sangha will be commemorating 100 years since Luang Por Chah was born. Though his birthday was in June, the gathering in Thailand to commemorate the occasion will be in January, when the weather will be cooler. Many Western monks and nuns from around the world will be gathering for the occasion. Luang Por’s (‘Venerable Father’) actual birthday, June 17th, coincidentally falls on Father's Day in England… so it seemed appropriate to mark this day with the yearly Thord Pha Pa. We can then commemorate Luang Por Chah’s birth in this country by coming together as an international community in harmony. To gather in harmony paying respects to the Triple Gem is a fitting way to pay tribute to any teacher.*
Before then, on New Year’s Eve, we will be having our traditional midnight vigil; this year the occasion will also be marked by Thierry taking the anagarika precepts. On the following day, January 1st, there will be an opportunity for lay friends to determine the Refuges and Precepts and also to bring to mind any wholesome aspirations for the coming year. Our winter retreat begins soon after that, on January 5th, with around nineteen monks, nuns, samaneras and anagarikas in residence, as well as the ten laypeople who will be supporting the retreat. Though the sangha will be holding silence during this period, people are most welcome to join in the meal offerings at 10.30a.m. as well as any group meditation sessions. For those who’d like to offer food or help out with the meal time preparations, a cooking rota will be posted on the notice board in the foyer of the Dhamma Hall. The Saturday night talks will continue, there will be some meditation guidance on the first Sunday of the month; however sangha members will not be hosting Sunday teatimes.
May the Blessings of the Triple Gem support you having a steady heart through the political and economical confusion that may arise in 2018.
Message from Ajahn Sucitto
For me, these past few months at Cittaviveka have been agreeable. The community has acted like a community, with a range of different characters and nationalities living together cooperatively and without strife. When one notices that, despite the huge advantages in terms of mutual support and economics that there are to living in community, people can find living with just one or two others too difficult to bear – this is impressive. It’s not so much what happens, as what
isn’t happening – in terms of quarrelling, holding grudges or arguing over who does what. This ability to hold our differences and moods is an evident result of practising Dhamma-Vinaya. Frustrating my wishes and impulses at times, it is yet an incomparable field in which goodness can arise.
By the time you read this, I’ll have left Cittaviveka for the winter, spending most of it in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. So far the many disadvantages of travelling – visas, airports, security, delays, jet-lag and a contribution to the amount of carbon in the atmosphere – are just about outweighed by the requests and the results of offering much-needed spiritual support. Cittaviveka is a situation that can only include a limited number of people, and to reach out to larger groups in scenarios that allow them to disconnect from their daily duties and be with a bhikkhu seems important and doable so far. However, I’m glad that knowledgeable volunteers have been helping to put retreats and talks on DVDs, so that as ageing makes travelling even less agreeable, these little plastic discs can stand in for physical presence. (Click on https://forestsangha.org/teachings/audio for selections.)
However living presence is very much what Cittaviveka is about; and of course this is mutual: everyone who comes and stays is encouraged to bring themselves, body and mind, into the practices, duties and conventions that bind the community. This approach establishes clear boundaries of respect and restraint, and brings forth good heart. Whereas payment, competition and worldly gain limit the value of our efforts to an assessable finite sum, when these are removed, we instead reap the fruits of sharing and open-heartedness. The forest work month was a very good example of this: this year some nine lay volunteers came from near and far to join members of the resident community in harvesting firewood, clearing non-native trees and planting indigenous trees. A simple process of working, eating and meditating together to support wildlife and the monastery naturally brings forth goodwill, mutual respect and quiet joy. One volunteer said he hadn’t done any physical work in thirty years, but after taking a few days to get into his stride, was feeling great: fresh air, no phone, no deadlines; just trees, fellow humans and living in the present.
As we all know, living in the present isn’t just about a time-frame – it means living in the contemporary world. How a spiritual training that is based on respecting tradition can do that is one of our ongoing enquiries. But one feature of this is our awareness of the environment, not just as something that we can live in for our own welfare, but also as a natural intelligent system that gives us life, and deserves our respect. Even more than that; it needs our help. The interwoven crises of pollution, over-consumption, use of fossil-fuels and insensitive agricultural practices are driving life on this planet towards the critical edge of severe loss of life – and even of liveable areas. In our quiet way, we respond to this by limiting use of vehicles, using requisites frugally (and sharing our surpluses with the homeless) and of course using our own renewable wood source for heating. However we do need support and understanding of this from the lay community who bring offerings, and in this respect we draw your attention to bringing plastic bottles and bags to the monastery. The vast majority of all plastic goes into landfills, the oceans – and back into people’s bodies; the oceans are choked with this trash. This is most obviously the case with bottled water: at Cittaviveka, we have our own clean well-water, uncontaminated by any additives, free and on tap. There is absolutely no merit in leaving us with plastic bottles to dispose of, so we strongly encourage donors to refrain from buying it and bringing it here.
Living in the present also means being aware of the fragility of life itself, and certainly I have seen many friends and supporters pass away in my time here. Death, even when it’s no surprise is always a shock; until it happens, it remains an idea. And we can only speculate on the effects that it will bring to the living. In my time here, no death can have been so sudden and unexpected as that of Kathy Halter, who was killed in a car accident on November 22nd , and whose funeral many of you attended on December 4th. It was an occasion in which careful handling and steady heartfelt presentations spoke of both how much Kathy meant to so many, and the strength of the Dhamma practice in the lay community. Despite the loss, I am nevertheless encouraged by that strength and solidarity; notably of course by that of her husband who had to organise the entire event while coping with his own bereavement. To stand firm and fluent in the presence of such dukkha is another testimonial to Dhamma.
And that is part of living presence. To live with the sense of the gift and the fragility of life is to live with generosity and respect for all. It generates a field, an inclusivity that wears away at the separate sense of self. Just this alone is a remedy for the gross forms of greed, hatred, loneliness, and self-obsession. Whereas to an unawakened person, the human condition is boundaried by death, to the spiritually attuned, there is the embrace of fellow-feeling, conscience and sharing. And to the awakened, this embrace unfolds through wisdom into an awareness of the deathless: no-one is born or dies; citta is unbounded. May all our struggles and challenges incline us to that blessed realization.