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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.

News: Wednesday 8th June, 2016

For the first time in many years Luangpor will be flying to Thailand to attend the June meeting at Wat Pah Pong, the principal monastery in our tradition. It takes place on Ajahn Chah’s birthday (the 16th) and is an occasion when many senior monks gather to discuss various important matters. He’ll be away from Tuesday 14th to Monday 20th. Incidentally, this is a time when Luangpor prefers not to be away in Thailand: not only is it hot and wet over there, but he’d much rather be enjoying England’s long evenings, walking in the fields with Jimmy, his trusty Norfolk Terrier.

Two and half weeks ago we had our Visakha Puja celebration. The day dawned cloud-free and the sun rose to smile down upon a crowd of about 150 people. It was good to see a real mix of devotees – Thais, Burmese, Sri Lankans, Malaysians, Singaporeans, Cambodians and even a decent crop of British came to remember the Buddha’s Birth, Enlightenment and Final Passing.

On the following Saturday Luangpor ventured across the border and chaired the yearly Angulimala Scotland workshop. Unfortunately the Scottish prison system is very much behind its English counterpart when it comes to multi-faith chaplaincy, and the Buddhist chaplains up there are having a hard time taking the Buddha’s Teachings into the prisons.

On the same weekend Ajahn Manapo led a retreat at Bhavana Dhamma. It seemed to go well (no one ran away), and the retreatants were very well fed thanks to the efforts and generosity of Hui Peng from Leeds. The next retreat takes place on the last weekend of June and there are two spaces left for men. There is one space left for a man on the August week-long retreat. Please apply a.s.a.p. if you’re interested.

In the week before the half-term break Ajahn Manapo hosted a couple of school visits. Firstly there was a class of 6-7 year olds from Coleshill, and then we had a visit from Moreton Morrell Primary, which is just a stone’s throw from here. Both groups were exceptionally well behaved, and the children from Moreton Morrell were an especially impressive bunch of meditators.

Still on the subject of Buddhism in schools, Ajahn Manapo has been working hard on formulating a new Programme of Study for schools in the Coventry and Warwickshire areas. Just last Monday he attended another SACRE meeting, where his work was shared with other members. It was very well received. Many thanks to Spencer for giving an afternoon to help Ajahn Manapo with this important project.

Last Sunday Khun Peter and Co. came up from London. After the meal Luangpor led a meditation and gave a Dhamma Talk. During the latter he spoke about how Dhamma talks should be focussed on the Dhamma and not the personality of the speaker, a point which seems to be lost on a number of well-known Buddhist teachers these days. It is for this reason that monks often close their eyes, or hold a fan in front of their face – techniques which serve to lessen the presence of personality. As Ajahn Chah said, when it comes to giving a teaching, you should just step to one side and let the Dhamma do the talking.

This weekend Rob will be away. He’s got a few last-minute personal matters which need attending to before he embarks on his training as an anagarika (a white-robed postulant), the first step to becoming a monk. On Saturday Luangpor and Ajahn Manapo will be eating their one meal of the day at a Khun Dtoi’s house in Rugby and on Sunday we have our monthly Sunday School class.

News: Friday 20th May, 2016

Today is the full moon day of the Indian lunar month of Vesakha, which means it’s the anniversary of the Buddha’s Birth, Enlightenment and Passing. We’ll be celebrating it on Sunday from 10:30 am onward. Let’s hope it’s a nice sunny day…

Last Saturday Luangpor ventured over to The Orchard, a charming little retreat house located just this side of the Welsh border in Herefordshire. He had been invited by Ad Brugman and his group to lead a meditation, give a Dhamma talk, and host a Q&A session.

On the evening before that we had our monthly BDF meeting, the BDF being the trust that administers the financial and business affairs of the Hermitage. Dr. Chris Green, our Chairman, reported on his progress as he prepares to set up a new, replacement trust – one that will be better suited to our requirements. We are also on the lookout for a new trust secretary, so if you are interested please do get in touch.

On the previous Sunday Ajahn Manapo led the monthly Sunday School. He spoke to the children about the damage caused by anger, and of the importance of metta – loving-kindness. He also told them the story of Angulimala, before leading a meditation and answering questions.

This past week has seen a good amount of local school-related activity. On Tuesday Luangpor hosted Cheltenham Ladies’ College during their annual visit to the Hermitage. About 60 girls aged 14-15 spent two hours here, speaking to Luangpor in the shrine room before exploring the grounds.

On the same day Ajahn Manapo took an assembly at Telford Infant School in Leamington Spa. Today (Friday) he will visit Streetsbrooke Infant School in Solihull to speak to a class of Year 2 children before leading another assembly.

And just last Monday Ajahn Manapo attended a meeting of the Coventry SACRE. As the Buddhist representative he was charged with formulating a new Buddhist Programme of Study as part of the new RE Syllabus for schools in the Coventry area. Exciting stuff. (If there are any sympathetic teachers or ex-teachers out there who might have some tips, please get in touch.)

A week tomorrow Luangpor will be off up to Edinburgh (with Garth and Rob sharing the driving) to meet the Angulimala Scotland Prison Chaplains. Ajahn Manapo will be busy leading a weekend retreat at Bhavana Dhamma.

And finally, over the last few months we’ve seen an increase in people coming to offer food to the monks on weekdays. We’d like to say a particularly big thank you to Graham and Khun Noi, and Khun Pen and Khun Oi, who seem to have been present more often than not. Anumodana! (Well done!). For anyone interested in contributing to the morning meal, it is served at 11 am. Please contact us for more info.

News: Thursday 5th May, 2016

It’s May, which means one thing in the Buddhist world: Visakha Puja is just around the corner. This is when we celebrate the birth, Enlightenment and final passing of the Buddha. The actual day is Friday 20th, but we will celebrate on Sunday 22nd. The day’s events will begin at 10:30 am, and will conclude at about 1:30. All are welcome.

Last weekend was a busy one. Luangpor hosted an Angulimala Committee meeting on the Saturday. Certain big changes are taking place in the Prison Service Chaplaincy, and Luangpor and his team of Buddhist chaplains are working out how best to deal with them.

Ajahn Manapo led a bank holiday weekend retreat at Bhavana Dhamma. 10 people of varying nationalities and ages attended. Many thanks to Matthew Brayshaw and friends for providing food on the Saturday and Sunday, and to Kanlaya and Stephen Coulsting for cooking on the Monday. If anyone is interested in supporting these retreats please get in touch.

After a hiatus of several months, Khun Peter’s London group came up by coach on the Sunday. The weather was fine, piping hot Thai food was enjoyed by all, and people were well fed spiritually by taking the precepts, making offerings, meditating, and listening to Luangpor’s Dhamma Talk. About £1300 was donated to the Hermitage. Anumodana and well done to Khun Peter and Co.

Last week saw Luangpor and Ajahn Manapo returning to Warwick University after the Spring break for their weekly meetings, with Luangpor leading the Monday session and Ajahn Manapo the Thursday one. Please remember that these evenings are open to the public, too.

Ajahn Manapo will host another Sunday School class this weekend. It will begin at 12:30 pm and last for one hour. Children between 7 and 13 are most welcome. Classes include some chanting, a teaching, meditation and questions.

Next Tuesday Ajahn Manapo will be heading over to Banbury to see the Buddhist group, where he’ll lead a meditation and give a talk on the first of the Five Hindrances to meditation: sensual desire. The evening begins at 8 pm and will be held at the Friends Meeting House. All welcome.

As everybody knows, with Spring comes a long ‘to-do’ list. We’re currently in the process of giving everything a fresh lick of paint. Just yesterday the special Thai gold paint was cracked open and the walking Buddha image in the back garden, the sitting Buddha image in the main garden, and the top of the Pagoda were rejuvenated.

Speaking of the pagoda (which will be 28 this year), we would very much like to upgrade the four sitting places that are set slightly back from each side. At the moment each place comprises two (slightly submerged) concrete slabs. We have found some very attractive, though expensive, pieces of slate which would look great. We hope to be able to get them soon.

Calendar

Visakha Puja Celebration Sunday 22nd May, from 10:30 am. Please bring vegetarian food to offer and share.

Sunday School Held on the second Sunday of every month. Children aged between 7 and 13 welcome.

Meditation Evenings Mondays and Fridays, 8 – 9:30 pm. Includes chanting, guided meditation and talk. More info here.

Bhavana Dhamma Retreats Upcoming retreat dates: 27 – 29 May, 24 – 26 June, 6 – 12 August. Limited spaces. More info here.