On June 7th this year, I concluded my twentieth year of living as abbot of Cittaviveka. The moment passed unrecognized, as indeed most do; I was teaching a retreat at Gaia House at the time and only realized a week ago that it had been twenty years since I turned up at the monastery at around midnight on a meditation vigil and picked up where Ajahn Anando had left off.
To chronicle the events and developments of the last twenty years would take a small book. However, in my opinion the monastery is now a very ample resource, with adequate forest and house dwellings for monks, nuns and lay guests. It attracts visitors from near and far, and we’ve had more senior Ajahns come to offer their presence and teachings this past year than through the past decade. The Hammer Wood now mostly needs time and maintenance, rather than any new major projects – although we are considering a means of generating hydro-electricity from the waterfall that would cover our own electrical needs and provide funding to dredge the Pond. The Aloka Shrine room just needs a ramp for disabled access to bring it to completion. Finally, to conclude a long-standing need, a new sima has recently been created in the Dhamma Hall; this will allow the bhikkhus to perform official Sangha acts under a roof.
To look at things more broadly, the monastery and its lay community have together created the foundations of a Dhamma culture. Through the mutual support system that the Buddha laid down, Cittaviveka is able to offer teachings and facilities for Dhamma practice, food and accommodation completely free of charge. Parties of school-children – some twenty groups per year – come to visit, take in the peace of the situation and get a feel for the results of living according to ethical standards, generosity and cooperation. This establishes values for a healthy life that are not always evident in the society at large. Meanwhile, just as monks and nuns are well-received on their alms-rounds and ‘tudong’ walks, members of the public feel at ease to come into the monastery and get a feel for themselves as to what Buddhism is about. And if you can’t get here, there’s a website and podcasts to help you keep the Triple Gem in mind.
As the Treasurer’s report points out, the one area that needs careful attention is budgeting and finances. We understand that Cittaviveka has to function in line with the local council’s stipulation that it doesn’t take on major public events; in fact this supports a quiet and contemplative atmosphere. However the absence of classes and public retreats also reduces the number of people who use the place, and that limits the potential for support. So, with Amaravati catering for the large occasions and Cittaviveka performing the complementary function of nurturing the roots of the practice, the monasteries share resources. However, in the current economic climate the resources to cover the costs of running two monasteries haven’t been adequate.
Over the past couple of years we’ve looked at this cold fact, and allowed ourselves to think ‘out of the box.’ What does one do? Reduce costs? Of course – but with VAT going up, and government stipulations to upgrade our facilities … and as we manage a site of 180 acres with only one part-time paid employee and massive amounts of wonderful voluntary service – we haven’t found a way. The Sangha could, I suppose, pack up and go elsewhere. But the idea of selling all, or even part, of the monastery meets with immediate and overall disapproval. So the short message is that if what Cittaviveka offers is to continue, there needs to be an increase in donations. The good news is that if most of our visitors, guests and supporters gave the equivalent of a week’s newspaper bills (or the cost of a minimal snack in a café), on a monthly basis, then the monastery would be amply financed. This is the ‘alms-round principle’ – a spoonful of food from many people is the standard for support. I feel that it is mostly a matter of establishing that principle as part of the way of relating to a monastery. Give and receive. It may well be that one of the reasons for the shortfall is simply that the place looks so good that it doesn’t seem to need to receive much.
Meanwhile, to refer back to ‘wonderful voluntary service’: this season has again demonstrated that the benevolent aspect of human nature is alive and well. A group of some fifteen Zen practitioners camped out for a week in the Hammer Wood in June in order to offer service and join the community for meditation. They had a great time – built the steps around the Aloka Shrine Room, pointed the walls of the walled garden, did necessary things to the weeds and the vegetation, sat like rocks – and left with the wish to do it all over again. Much the same can be said for the Forest Work Week, which was carefully set up by Paul Bruce. This meant that in the first week of July a group of a dozen to fifteen people camped out, or turned up, in order to participate in a programme of path-clearing, weed control and log stacking – mingled with guided walks with talks by experts on the flora and fauna of the Woods. With the weather being so rainy, the proposed ‘outdoor pujas’ didn’t go down so well, but Aloka opened its doors to the group to conclude each day with an hour of meditation. (And as a reminder, there’s the Forest Month coming up in November – for details see the Memo.)
Apart from these special occasions, Eugene and Rob are to be found on most days managing the lush wilderness that the grounds threatens to become – and every Sunday is a ‘Garden Day’ if you like grounding yourself with some simple earthy work. As another supportive gesture, the Chichester Buddhist Group are looking into sponsoring a gardener to work for one day a week on the grounds around Rocana.
People have expressed concern over the nuns’ presence at Cittaviveka – that few nuns are in residence at this time. Personally I trust the law of kamma: if there are steady intentions and actions in terms of Dhamma, the nuns’ Order will grow. Adequate resources and a field of willing support are both available. Currently the sisters have decided to pursue a course that centres them at Amaravati and makes Rocana an autonomous Vihara. And yet, the sisters see Rocana as a prime responsibility; they have been coming down in groups of two or three throughout the year. Currently Ajahn Metta is replacing Ajahn Cittapala as senior nun at the Vihara. During the three months of Vassa, she is extending the invitation for those who are interested to participate in ‘Dhamma-contemplation’ with the nuns at 5p.m. each Saturday. This is an addition to the Tuesday evening Dhamma-sharing, which is open to all. So the sisters are offering teachings, as well as their example to guests and visitors. There doesn’t seem to be anything else to do except appreciate what is present and let things take their natural course.
We never quite know how events will manifest from day to day, but that uncertainty is also part of the Dhamma package. All that‘s certain is that from good input, good results are bound to come. In that respect nothing much has changed in the past twenty years, and in a hundred years’ time it’ll be much the same.