Newsletter, Tuesday 12th September 2017

Since our last newsletter (eight months ago!) many things have happened here at the Hermitage, as you might have guessed.

Perhaps most significant of all has been the completion of the roof renovation project. Work started at the beginning of May and was more or less completed by the end of July. Andy the Builder led the project, with ongoing assistance provided by Hermitage residents and guests. We also had several work days where many of you showed up to lend a hand, helping to remove tiles (and later put them back on), strip off the old baton, pull out rusty nails, cut insulation… It was a real team effort and we’re very grateful indeed for the effort made and time given.

Of course it all had to be paid for, and we’re pleased to announce that this has now been done thanks to many donations both large and small. According to Andy it was a £30,000 job, but we managed to do it for just under £23,000, largely thanks to saving on labour costs. We now have a ‘warm roof’, with eight inches of insulation (compared to little over zero inches before), which should make quite a difference to the warmth and energy efficiency of the property. The fascia and barge boards are all rosewood-effect PVC (matching the new windows) and will therefore require minimum maintenance.

And so, from Luangpor and everyone at the Hermitage, Anumodana! (Well Done and Thank You!) to everyone who contributed with your money and time.

Just last weekend, on Saturday 2nd September, we hosted the third Angulimala workshop of the year. Luangpor had managed to secure Peter Clarke, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, as the guest speaker, and we therefore had an unusually large turn-out of 30 Buddhist prison chaplains who were eager to hear him speak. Because of the expected larger numbers, the majority of the day’s meetings were held in one of our festival marquees, which, as you can see below, was situated in the field and incorporated the main Buddha image. Thankfully the weather was fine and the marquee a great success.

At the end of the afternoon Luangpor took the opportunity to present everyone with a copy of the new book, Common Buddhist Text – Guidance and Insight from the Buddha, which was launched by Thailand’s Mahachula’ University when he was there in May. This is a book he believes will be of enormous help to everyone in the prisons – both inmates and chaplains.

As always, the hunt is on for new prison chaplains to accommodate the ever-growing number of prisoners throughout the UK. If you are interested in the challenging yet highly rewarding role of Buddhist Prison Chaplain, please read this and get in touch.

On Sunday 17th September we will be making our annual trip to HMP Springhill for the Buddha Grove ceremony. It will have been 25 years since the opening of this special place (the first of its kind), and we expect to be joined by up to twenty monks from various monasteries, as well as a good crowd of our supporters. As usual, Khun Peter will commandeer the prison kitchen for the afternoon, and, assisted by his gang of helpers, will ensure the 320 inmates plus staff and guests are well fed with Thai food and kindness.

Back in May Luangpor attended a conference in Thailand, as part of the Visakha Puja celebrations, where he spoke on Mindfulness in the Ajahn Chah Tradition. Unfortunately, owing to a spectacular electrical storm, the programme was somewhat disrupted and he ended up speaking for only twenty minutes. However, it was still very well-received and he was able to provide an insight into Ajahn Chah’s unique approach to practice. Following that he was invited to the UN building where it was announced that, to his surprise, he would be giving another talk. And then, only four days after having arrived, it was again time to board the plane.

With the start of the school year Ajahn Manapo’s calendar is beginning to fill up, not only with school visits but local cub group visits, too. As mentioned in previous newsletters he has been involved in the production of a new RE syllabus for Coventry and Warwickshire. This has now been launched and we hope the teachers will find the Buddhist content both helpful and meaningful. He has also been working with a non-profit organisation called TrueTube, which produces free RE video resources for schools. They are in the process of creating a series of day-in-the-life videos, and Ajahn Manapo features in the Buddhist one.

Just before the beginning of the Vassa, in early July, Ajahn Manapo embarked on another tudong – this time with a difference: he began at the monastery gate and just walked, following no particular route and with little notion of where he was going. He did all of this without money or food, depending solely upon the generosity of people he met on the way. Five days later he ended up just east of Bristol. It was a remarkable experience which was capped off quite unexpectedly with him teaching meditation to the Vicar of Badminton on the front lawn of the vicarage. An account of his adventure is hopefully on the way.

The monthly retreats at Bhavana Dhamma continue to be popular and as such fill up pretty quickly. We are now taking bookings for the New Year retreat, and so if you’d like to apply please go ahead. There are a few spaces left for men on the October retreat and spaces for both men and women on the early December retreat. We are very grateful to everybody who helps to support these retreats, and in particular, Benyapa. The photos below are from the August bank holiday retreat.

While working on the roof we had to re-point some of the cement between the brickwork, and as we’ve often lamented the fact that the brickwork was ever painted (long before our time), we took the opportunity to try to strip off the paint. After some experimentation we’ve found the right product and method, and so we are now in the process of revealing the bricks in all their old-fashioned glory. As you can see from the photos, it should be worth the effort. If anyone would like to lend a hand in the coming months we’d be very grateful!

Another imminent project is the resurfacing of the Bhavana Dhamma (Wood Cottage) forecourt. Within the next few weeks it will be tarmacked, which will solve the perennial problems caused by the rain and mud. It won’t be cheap, but it needs to be done.

And finally, now that it’s the middle of September, and only a few days past the full moon, we are just over two-thirds of the way through the annual Rains Retreat (the Vassa). The Vassa (or Pansa, in Thai) is what monks use to count their years in robes. Consequently, this will be Luangpor’s 46th and Ajahn Manapo’s 17th. Also in residence for this period have been Samanera Pannyavuddho, the novice, and Anagarika Ross, who is both back-up chef and Luangpor’s driver. The Rains Retreat will end on Thursday 5th October, and our public celebration will take place on the following Sunday, being the 8th. More details to follow in the next couple of weeks.

That’s it from us for now. May you be happy and free from suffering.

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Tuesday 3rd January, 2017

In the forest monasteries of our tradition, January means one thing: the annual Ajahn Chah memorial celebration. On the 16th of this month, when it will have been 25 years since he passed away, Wat Pah Pong will host a gathering of thousands – perhaps even tens of thousands – of monks, nuns and lay-people as they remember the great man and his legacy.

Because of this, both Luangpor and Ajahn Manapo will be away in Thailand for most of the month. Ajahn Manapo flies out this evening, having a bit of time to himself before he receives Luangpor at Wat Pah Nanachat on the 14th. After a week or so in the Northeast they will fly over to Mandalay in neighboring Burma, from where they hope to catch a boat to Bagan. A visit to Yangon, and specifically the magnificent Shwedagon Pagoda, will conclude their Burmese excursion.

Luangpor circumambulating the Shwe Zigon Pagoda in Bagan, last January

After Burma they’ll have a couple of days in Cha-am, in Southern Thailand, before Ajahn Manapo heads back to the UK on the 31st. On the 4th February Luangpor will zip over to Korat for a couple of nights at Wat Pah Rattanawan, the rather well-appointed monastery of Ajahn Nyanadhammo, where there will be a sima dedication ceremony. Luangpor will land back on British soil (or London tarmac) on the 6th.

Ajahn Cittagutto, a German monk who ordained here in 1992 and who normally stays in the north of Thailand, has very kindly offered to hold the reigns (and Jimmy’s dog lead) while they’re away. The Monday and Friday meditation evenings will thus continue as normal, as will the Warwick Uni Buddhist Society’s Monday meetings.

The last few months have, as usual, seen their fair share of prison- and school-related activities. Luangpor led two Angulimala workshops, handing out the ever-popular Angulimala calendars in the December meeting, and clocked up countless miles visiting both local and distant prisons, including trips to Portland and Doncaster.

A perennial challenge that faces Luangpor in his work is the need to recruit new prison chaplains. The difficulty is compounded by the fact that many of those who apply are unwilling to keep the fifth precept properly – a precept which is of the utmost importance when you are trying to help men and women who for the most part have serious alcohol and drug-related problems, and who are often behind bars because of misusing those substances.

Children from All Saints’ School in Warwick meditating in the Shrine Room.

Ajahn Manapo has been kept relatively busy with not only school visits, but local cub and scout groups, too. As usual, the meditation was a real hit, with one girl at Balsall Common’s Heart of England School remarking, after a few minutes of focussing on her breath, ‘I feel like I’ve just been on holiday and come back home.’

The End of Vassa celebration came and went in mid-October, and because of the passing of His Majesty King Bhumipol only a few days before, it also served as a memorial for the widely-adored late Thai King. Several retreats have also taken place at Bhavana Dhamma since our last newsletter, the most recent of which finished just yesterday as twelve retreatants spent the final three days of 2016 and the first two days of 2017 in silent meditation.

End of Vassa gathering on the 16th October

Of course, the highlight of that retreat was joining in with the New Year’s Eve celebration at the Hermitage. Unfortunately, Ajahn Cittagutto’s flight from Germany on the 31st was cancelled because of London fog, and so he wasn’t able to lend his voice to the midnight chanting. But it was still a singularly uplifting occasion: it’s not often you get a room of thirty people celebrating the beginning of a new year in meditative silence and without the assistance of intoxicants. If only more would follow our example!

Going back to the subject of retreats at Bhavana Dhamma, the schedule for 2017 is now online. Bookings open three months before the start date of each retreat, unless you’ve attended one before – then you can book at any time.

These retreats could not function without the support of people like you, and we are particularly grateful to Benyapa for her unwavering service in the kitchen, and to Emma for helping to maintain the house and garden. We are also indebted to the many people who have provided food over the last year, including Kanlaya, Sarah, Anne, Nawaporn, Priya, Trish, Donna, Fon and Matthew.

As with any old building, the maintenance and improvement of the Hermitage is an ongoing project. We are lucky to have Andy at the helm, who is not only a peerless builder (the term builder really doesn’t do him justice) but also a great friend. Thanks to him the installation of the new windows is 99% complete – there’s just one little bit of finishing off to do, but as it involves a brittle phone line and thus the cooperation of BT we are not optimistic that it will be accomplished any time this century… Once again, a big thank you to Noi, Pen and Oi for sponsoring the windows.

We have also been in talks with Andy about our roof, which is in quite a dilapidated state. It is our intention to replace it later in the year, installing a ‘warm roof’ in its place. It’ll be a massive job, but we haven’t got much choice, and the new so-called ‘warm roof’ will make a substantial difference to the building’s insulation properties.

That’s it from us for now. We at the Hermitage and Bhavana Dhamma wish you all a Very Happy New Year. May you continue to grow in virtue, wisdom and peace of mind. Hopefully we’ll see you here in the not-too distant future.

Saturday 24th August

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Buddhist monasteries may for the most part be refuges of stillness and solitude, but there’s one thing that even we can’t escape: roadworks.

Yes, our little lane will soon become the site of diggers, portaloos and hard-hats as the local council begin replacing the bridge between the Hermitage and Sherbourne. Work will begin in the first week of October and is estimated to take up to twelve weeks. During this time you won’t be able to access the Hermitage from the Sherbourne (Warwick) end of Fulbrook Lane and will instead need to approach us from the Hampton Lucy (Stratford) end.

Continuing with his trend of reading from the Pali Canon on Friday evenings, just the other week Luangpor narrated the Angulimala Sutta. Here we witness the Buddha’s kindness and understanding bring about a remarkable change in a serial killer going by the nickname of Angulimala (which means ‘Finger Necklace’ – we’ll spare you the gory details).

As a result of his encounter with the Buddha, not only did this formidable character renounce harming others, but he ordained as a monk and eventually attained Enlightenment. Towards the end of the sutta King Pasenadi of Kosala, who, with a troop of soldiers, had been trying to hunt down Angulimala, praises the Buddha: ‘What we failed to do with both force and weapons, you accomplished with neither force nor weapons.’

That last quote needs to be carved into the office door of every world leader.

On the subject of the Buddha’s words, although the internet is allowing more people than ever to access the Dhamma, it is also proving to be a veritable breeding ground for, among other questionable things, fake Buddha quotes. Indeed, if you do a Google image search of ‘Buddha quotes’ you’ll be hard pressed to find a single genuine quote! As a precaution, we’d suggest always using reliable sources (which rules out most dedicated quotation websites), and being skeptical of quotes that lack a sutta reference. Generally speaking, if a quote sounds like it’s been uttered by Mystic Meg, then it probably has.


On Saturday 3rd September we hosted the penultimate Angulimala workshop of the year. About 20 chaplains from various corners of the country gathered for several hours of meditation, discussions and meetings. It’s worth pointing out that Angulimala, the Buddhist Prison Chaplaincy, is one of a kind; no other religion has a comparable organisation that supports its members as Angulimala does.

Last Sunday Luangpor led a large group of monks and Thai supporters during the annual Springhill Prison Buddha Grove Celebration. As well as the usual chanting, speeches, Thai buffet (spearheaded by the indefatigable Khun Peter) and candlelit circumambulation, we also held a short tree-planting ceremony for Lord Avebury, the late Patron of Angulimala and a veteran of this event. A gingko biloba, enshrined within a fine cast-iron tree guard and marked with a slate plaque, has taken its place in the grove. His son, the new Lord Avebury, as well as his widow, Lindsay, and daughter, Victoria, were all in attendance.

While on the subject of prisons, we’re pleased to announce that Adrian is now driving Luangpor. No sooner had we stuck up a poster in the foyer asking for help when he appeared out of the blue (fresh from China) and said he’d do it.

In a recent Monday evening Dhamma Talk Ajahn Manapo spoke about fear and how to overcome it. He suggested that instead of focusing on the object of our fear we should be mindful of the fear itself, and in particular of the various physical sensations and feelings associated with it. When we do this, he said, we will see that it is in fact our aversion to these feelings that is at the root of the problem. By investigating these sensations not only do we extricate the mind from the whirlpool of thoughts, but we begin to discover their true nature: that they are transient and without substance. Once this is seen, the aversion loses its foothold and the fear – and thus the suffering – falls away.

A week last Sunday the Hermitage witnessed another Sunday School Class. The recent summer holidays meant a few things had been forgotten and so Ajahn Manapo did a quick re-cap of some of the key episodes of the Buddha’s early life. Afterwards they had a Dhamma chat (with the odd foray into matters less-connected with Buddhism…) before practising mindfulness of breathing for a few minutes. As a little experiment, at the beginning of the session he had the children recite, in English, the five precepts. It was very successful and will now be a staple ingredient of each monthly class, the next of which is on Sunday 9th October, at 12:30 pm.

16th-18th September Weekend Retreat at Bhavana Dhamma

Last weekend Ajahn Manapo led a retreat at Bhavana Dhamma. Being that it’s the Rains Retreat he wasn’t able to leave the Hermitage before dawn and so the eleven intrepid retreatants ventured over there for the two morning sittings. The weather was fine. the food was even better (thanks to Hui Peng from Leeds), and the meditation was, hopefully, very productive for all involved. There are a few spaces left on the November and New Year retreats, so apply sooner rather than later if you’d like to attend.

It’s almost October which means that the Warwick University Buddhist Society will soon be kicking off its twice-weekly meetings. Luangpor will lead the Monday sessions and Ajahn Manapo the Thursday ones. As usual, these evenings are open to all, and so if you’re in the area feel free to drop in. Contact us for details on the time and venue.

As the end of this year’s Rains Retreat (Vassa) approaches we are looking ahead to our final major celebration of the year. Pavarana Day, which marks the last day of the Vassa, falls on Sunday 16th and so, unusually, we are able to have our public celebration on the actual day.

The word Pavarana means invitation, and it refers to the Buddha’s instruction that all monks, having completed the three month retreat period, invite their fellows in the monastic life to offer constructive criticism of their behaviour. Although we tend to recoil from criticism, the Buddha considered it an invaluable element of the spiritual life, as exemplified in this quote from the Dhammapada:

‘Should one find a man who points out faults and who reproves, let him follow such a wise and sagacious person as one would a guide to hidden treasure. It is always better, and never worse, to cultivate such an association.’  *

The actual celebration of Pavarana Day will begin at 10:30 am with the taking of the Refuges and Precepts. Immediately after will be the alms-round, followed by a vegetarian meal. Once everyone has eaten, Khun Peter will lead the robe offerings, before Luangpor and Ajahn Manapo give Dhamma Talks. It should all be over by about 1:30 pm. As we anticipate a crowd of well over 100 we have arranged for our local luxury toilet hire firm (who, we found out on Tuesday, have been giving us a substantial discount all along) to provide us with extra facilities for the day.

All are welcome, so please feel free to come along, perhaps even bringing some vegetarian food to offer and share.

______________________________

* Source: Access to Insight

News: Saturday 20th August, 2016

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One month in and only yesterday did this year’s Rains Retreat start to live up to its name: it rained. Of course, the ‘Rains’ bit refers to the monsoons that engulf the Indian subcontinent at this time of year, and is the reason why the Buddha said that monks should cease travelling and stay in one place (the ‘Retreat’ bit).

On the subject of water, two days before the week-long retreat began on the 6th August, the well-pump over at Bhavana Dhamma broke down. Not being able to get it replaced in time (it was a Friday…), we dusted off the jerry cans and buckets and asked the retreatants to tough it out. Every cloud has a silver lining, however, and as it was realised that the retreatants would need to venture over to the Hermitage to shower, we decided to hold the morning and evening sittings there, which was a great success. We’re now thinking of having at least one sitting per weekend retreat at the Hermitage, and perhaps more on the longer ones.

Going back to just before the beginning of the Rains Retreat, Ajahn Manapo embarked on a tudong walk across the Welsh Cambrian Mountains. Villages and towns were in short supply (unlike the rain and mud) and so he went hungry on one day and almost on another, but made up for it with excellent responses from the good people of Llanidloes and Knighton.

Five Star Accommodation in the Cambrian Mountains

Two days after his return, on Thursday 30th June, Luangpor and Ajahn Manapo trundled down to London to attend Lord Avebury’s memorial at the Royal Institution. They joined several hundred guests for two hours of tributes and reflections on Lord Avebury’s achievements in the field of human rights and beyond. Luangpor was one of the speakers and, as requested by Lord Avebury, he spoke about the Buddha’s teachings on impermanence. Lord Avebury was the sole Buddhist voice in Parliament and will be greatly missed by us, as well as by the many oppressed individuals around the world whose causes he championed.

Two weeks later, on Sunday 17th, we had a double celebration: Asalha Puja and Luangpor’s 72nd birthday. Over 250 people joined us to celebrate the Buddha’s First Sermon, and put into practice his teachings on kindness, harmlessness and meditation. The weather was fine, and so after everyone had eaten we were able to sit outside and listen to Luangpor speak on the content of that first teaching. He compared the Dhamma to medicine, and said that, like medicine, it is to be taken and used, not simply left on a shelf and admired.

As well as marking the Buddha’s First Sermon and the beginning of the Rains Retreat, Asalha Puja is also a time when we celebrate the Sangha – the order of Buddhist monks and nuns. At the end of that first discourse, Kondanna, who had realised the first stage of Enlightenment while the Buddha had been speaking, asked for the going forth as a bhikkhu – a Buddhist monk. Thus the Sangha was born.

In our tradition, the Rains Retreat is a time when groups of monks travel to various monasteries to pay their respects to the elders of the Sangha and ask them for forgiveness. It’s not that they’ve done anything wrong; it’s a formality that promotes unity and concord within the monastic community. And so on Saturday 30th July we had Ajahn Amaro and a group from Amaravati come with Ajahn Kampong, a senior Thai monk from Wat Pah Pong, to pay their respects to Luangpor. Back in 1973, Ajahn Kampong had stayed as a white-robed anagarika for a brief time with Luangpor at Wat Keurn, a very wild forest monastery on the Laotian border.

In the Pagoda Garden with the group from Amaravati

Being one of those aforementioned ‘elders’ of the Sangha, Luangpor seldom has to venture out for such occasions. But two days after the above event he and Ajahn Manapo paid a visit to Wat Buddhapadipa in Wimbledon to see the 90 year old Abbot. After that, together with Ajahn Kampong, Ajahn Amaro and a handful of other monks, they stopped by the London Buddhist Vihara in Chiswick to see the Venerable Seelawimala, who paid his respects to Luangpor before the others paid theirs to him.

For the past month Luangpor has replaced his usual Friday night Dhamma Talks with readings from the Pali Canon. Starting off by using Bhikkhu Nanamoli’s classic anthology ‘The life of the Buddha’ as his principle source, he has so far covered the Buddha’s early life and teaching career. Having previously worked as an actor, Luangpor’s delivery is second to none and we’d encourage those who are able to come and listen to these wonderful words. There are so many books on Buddhism, and most of these tell you more about the author than the Dhamma, so it’s best to go straight to The Teacher himself: the Buddha.

On the subject of books, Wisdom Books (not Wisdom Publications) has unfortunately had to close. For many years they were one of the main sources of Buddhist literature in this country and so will be sorely missed. Fortunately for us they very kindly offered to donate a good number of boxes of their left-over stock for use in the prisons, including hundreds of copies of the excellent Wheel Publications from BPS. Anumodana (well done) to them.

Just last week the biannual TBSUK (Theravada Buddhist Sangha in the UK) meeting was held, this time at the Oxford Buddha Vihara. It had been previously decided that, apart from the usual business, each meeting would have a theme. This time it was Buddhism and Children, and a number of monks gave presentations, including Ajahn Manapo, who spoke about the work he’s doing for the Coventry and Warwickshire Agreed Syllabus for schools. (You can view what he’s done so far here. If any teachers out there have suggestions, particularly regarding learning activities, please get in touch.) The theme for the next meeting will be ‘Mindfulness’, which will give monks a chance to raise concerns about the growing misuse and commercialisation of this central Buddhist practice. On the whole it was a successful gathering, with about 30 monks of Thai, Sri Lankan, Burmese, Nepalese and British origin in attendance.

The TBSUK Meeting at the Oxford Buddha Vihara

Two weeks tomorrow we have an Angulimala workshop. Over the last few weeks residents and guests have been busy preparing: stamping books and labeling some of the several thousand small Buddha rupas that recently arrived from Thailand for use in the prisons. Two weeks after that, on Sunday 18th September, we have our annual Springhill Prison Buddha Grove Celebration.

As most of you know, Luangpor visits prisons at least three times a week and is therefore heavily dependent on having a regular driver. Garth, who has been driving Luangpor for the last five months or so, has decided to move to pastures new and so we are once again on the lookout for a man to take the wheel. If anyone is interested in this highly rewarding job please get in touch,

And with mid-September will come a substantial improvement to the Hermitage’s insulation: courtesy of Khun Pen, Khun Oi and Khun Noi and Graham we are getting double-glazed windows installed. Anumodana!

News: Wednesday 29th June, 2016

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It’s only a week or so since Luangpor returned from his brief trip to Thailand but already it seems like the distant past. His primary reason for going was to attend the June meeting at Wat Pah Pong. He was joined there by Ajahn Amaro, Abbot of Amaravati, and with the help of Ajahn Kevali as translator they discussed with the many Thai monks present important matters concerning the Western branch monasteries of our tradition. While over there Luangpor also had a chance to catch up with some friends including Phra Chonyanmunee, Khun Yod, and former Warwick Uni students Ant and Ken.

Some of you know that Luangpor is seldom short of animal companionship. Over the years his compound has been home to tortoises, cockerels, rabbits, a duck, a goose, a parrot, and, not least, many canine friends.

Just over twelve years ago Ben arrived. A very large and athletic Hungarian Vizsla, we found him in a pitiful state in a local rescue centre. Luangpor immediately took to the young deer hound and within a few days Ben had found a new home at the Hermitage. A little over a year ago Ben’s back legs started to fail and for the last six months he’d been incapable of walking without our help. Then last Thursday, having spent the afternoon lying on the grass in the sun, Ben passed away. He was just over fourteen – an exceptionally good age for such a large dog.

On the subject of death (an ever-present theme in this life of ours!) this Thursday Luangpor and Ajahn Manapo will be heading down to London for Lord Avebury’s memorial service. Lord Avebury, the former Patron of Angulimala and a great friend and supporter of Luangpor’s, passed away in February. His funeral had been a small and discreet affair, with just relatives, one or two close friends and Luangpor and a group of monks present. Thursday’s service will be an opportunity for his much wider circle of friends, colleagues and admirers to say their farewells. Lord Avebury was not only a friend to Luangpor, but to all British Buddhists as he was our sole representative in Parliament. As such he will be sorely missed.

Last weekend we had our monthly retreat at Bhavana Dhamma. Thankfully the rain that seems to have been falling continuously for weeks just about managed to restrain itself, and seven women and three men enjoyed a couple of days of silence, simplicity and meditation. Thank you very much to Matthew and his friend, and to Kanlaya and Stephen, for providing the food. There is a waiting list for the August retreat, but there are spaces on the 16 – 18 September one. As always, spaces are limited.

Ever since his first tudong walk along the Cotswold Way in 2010 Ajahn Manapo has tried to do one each year. And so in just over a week, after spending some time in a remote Snowdonian cottage with his brother, Tim, he’s aiming to walk back from the Welsh coast by himself. He will of course not be carrying food or money, and will instead be depending on the generosity of people he meets along the way. He’ll begin in Machinlleth and follow Glyndwr’s Way to Knighton, before hopping onto the Teme Valley Way which ends up in Worcester. Being that he has to be back for our Asalha Puja celebration on the 17th July (which is also Luangpor’s birthday) he probably won’t have time to walk all the way. Let’s hope the clouds have run out of rain by then and, more importantly, that he gets fed!

As mentioned above Asalha Puja is approaching. This is when we celebrate the Buddha’s First Sermon, which we call the Dhamma-cakka-pavatthana Sutta – the Discourse on Setting in Motion the Wheel of Truth. It was the occasion when he first introduced the Middle Way and the Four Noble Truths to the Five Ascetics. The actual day is Tuesday 19th, but we will celebrate it on Sunday 17th. Our celebration will begin at 10:30 am and will conclude at about 1:30 pm. Everyone is welcome. Please bring vegetarian food to offer and share.

The day after Asalha Puja always marks the beginning of the year’s Vassa – the three month long ‘Rains Retreat’, a time when all monks must stay in one place. The Buddha instituted it after farmers complained that monks were damaging their paddy field paths as they wandered during the Monsoons. Obviously the initial reason for the Vassa is no longer relevant, (not from shortage of rain, but because of tarmac); instead it has now become a period of community stability and intensified practice. The Vassa is also the measure by which monks count their monastic ages: this will be Luangpor’s 45th and Ajahn Manapo’s 16th.

On to more mundane matters, our trusty Citroen C5, which has transported Luangpor (with the help of a number of drivers) to prisons all over the country for the last 8 or so years, is, as our friendly mechanic Nanu puts it, getting tired. And so the hunt is on for a replacement. We’re looking at another used estate car, which is safe, economical and reliable. Something like an Audi A4 or VW Passat has been recommended.

And finally, this Thursday will be Maureen’s birthday. Before we tell you how old she will be (she won’t mind) please ensure that you’re seated. She will be 86. Yes, 86, and still able to sling a sack of potatoes through the front door. Happy Birthday Maureen, and thank you for the unwavering support, dedication and generosity you’ve shown over the last three decades. You are one of a kind.