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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.

Newsletter: Friday 20th November

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Happy Birthday

It’s now thirty years since this humble pair of old gamekeepers’ cottages began their transformation into Warwickshire’s first and only Buddhist monastery. Immediately after the Rains Retreat of 1985 Luangpor, accompanied by his dog, Toby, arrived here and set about establishing Wat Pah Santidhamma (the Peaceful Forest Monastery), better known as the Forest Hermitage.

Three decades later it would appear that not a great deal has changed. It’s still a small, unassuming place tucked away amid forest and fields, and Luangpor continues to have a trusty pooch at his side, only these days it’s Jimmy.

Now many of you know that, though the Hermitage is certainly quiet, and nicely secluded from the crowds, it is actually a little powerhouse of Buddhist activity. With Luangpor’s prison work (Angulimala is also thirty this year), Ajahn Manapo’s involvement with local schools, the twice weekly public sittings, monthly retreats, the Sunday school, the Warwick Uni Buddhist Group, and various other projects, the Forest Hermitage contributes much more than its small stature might indicate.

So thank you, Luangpor, for creating this place and enabling so many people to benefit from the Buddha’s Teachings. And thank you also to everybody who has supported him and all that goes on here along the way. May the Forest Hermitage and all it stands for continue to blossom in the Heart of England for many years to come!

Such a significant milestone couldn’t be passed without a good old birthday party. On the 1st November about 300 people gathered here to celebrate thirty years and to mark the end of this year’s Vassa (Rains Retreat). 300 is a record for us, and fortunately (or unfortunately, if you’re concerned about global warming) the weather was clear and mild. (Frozen festival-goers, it would seem, are a thing of the past.).

Khun Peter and Co. sponsored this year’s robe offering (we didn’t have a kathina as for this to happen you need to have had at least five monks in residence during the retreat). He also provided vast quantities of hot, vegetarian Thai cuisine. One coach came loaded with students from Warwick Uni, and another with supporters from London. Many other people arrived in cars, bearing dishes of food and bags of supplies for the monastery stores.

Dancing girls and Thai boxing were, as usual, not on the program, and instead everyone was treated to the tried and tested practices of virtue (taking the five precepts), generosity (offering food to the monks), and mental development (meditating and listening to Dhamma talks).

Waiting to offer food to the Sangha
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As is tradition in our family of forest monasteries at this time of year, each Sangha member was invited to give a Dhamma talk. Luangpor reminded us that the conclusion of the Vassa is a time to focus on the importance of the Sangha – the order of monks and nuns. He then moved on to talk about external vs. internal cleanliness; most of us, he said, might be clean on the outside, but inside is often a different matter, what with all the greed, anger and delusion swirling around. The Dhamma, he pointed out, is aimed precisely at cleaning up this inner mess.

Ajahn Manapo recounted a favourite sutta where the Buddha compares the relative merits of giving, keeping the precepts, developing loving-kindness, and gaining deep insight into impermanence. The latter, the Buddha said, surpasses all. Ajahn Manapo finished with a little story which illustrated how the contemplation of our own impermanence (i.e. the fact that we will die) puts everything in perspective.

And then we held our collective breath as Sister Bodhi, our newly ordained Italian nun, took the mic and gave her First Ever Dhamma Talk. If she hadn’t admitted in her opening sentence that she was terrified you would never have known. But she quite rightly went on to point out that it was her practice to attempt to observe and understand this state of mind, and not be swallowed up by it.

All in all it was a very successful day. To commemorate the occasion we gave away our 2016 calendar as well as a small postcard with the two photos of Luangpor plus pooches, past and present. If you’d like copies yourself we can send them to you, or you can pick them up when you’re next here.

Just last Sunday Luangpor journeyed down to Amaravati, near Hemel Hempstead, for their Royal Kathina. As a Chao Khun he was asked by Ajahn Amaro (pictured with Luangpor in the left-hand picture below) to offer the blessing to the King of Thailand. Afterwards he gave a Dhamma talk in the large meeting hall, using the opportunity to speak to the lay people of the importance of supporting the Sangha. He also touched on both the recent attacks in Paris and the Coventry bombings of 75 years ago, saying that the Buddhist response to violence should be rooted in reconciliation and loving-kindness. 

Luangpor at Amaravati, and Ajahn Manapo visiting Alcester Primary School last month
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With Autumn comes a new academic year at Warwick University. During the summer Luangpor agreed to the Buddhist Society’s request to hold an extra weekly session, and so as well as the long-standing Monday meetings, students can now attend the new Thursday session, which is led by Ajahn Manapo. So far both nights have been well attended, with numbers generally ranging from between twenty and forty students. Please remember that these evenings are not only for students but are open to all. They take place every Monday and Thursday, from 6:30 – 8 pm.

This weekend Ajahn Manapo will be at Bhavana Dhamma leading a retreat, the penultimate one of the year. The Kumarasinges have very kindly offered to cook and serve the food. And on Saturday the 28th Luangpor will welcome Buddhist prison chaplains from across the country for Angulimala’s last workshop of 2015.

Newsletter: Friday 9th October

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Two Saturdays ago Luangpor paid a visit to the The Orchard, a charming retreat centre situated just this side of the Welsh border in Herefordshire. Eighteen people gathered there for a day retreat, and he was invited to join them for the latter half, leading a short meditation, giving a Dhamma Talk, and answering questions. It was a very pleasant afternoon. Many thanks to Ad for organising it.
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Last Saturday we made room for the large and devoted Win family, who came to remember the late U Nay Win and make offerings. Mr Win had been a very great supporter of this place since the early days, and Luangpor has many a vivid memory of him, particularly from the time when the pagoda was being built almost three decades ago.

After the meal Luangpor gave the Wins a Dhamma talk, speaking among other things of the need to support one another as we navigate these unforgiving seas of birth, suffering, ageing and death. And as a number of medical doctors were present, Luangpor took the opportunity to remind them that, just like medicine, the Dhamma should be taken and used, not just placed on a shelf and revered.

On the Sunday Khun Peter and a coach of 70 Thais came for their monthly gathering. It was the usual happy mix of precept taking, giving, eating, meditation and Dhamma Talks. The weather was fortunately excellent, and so we were able to do an alms-round outside. Please remember that these events are open to all.

Khun Peter is sponsoring next month’s robe offering ceremony which marks the end of the Rains Retreat. This will take place on Sunday 1st November, from 10 am.

On the full moon day marking the passing of the second month of the Rains Retreat, Luangpor read ‘Understanding Vinaya‘ from a book of Ajahn Chah’s teachings. It contains a classic mix of straight talking, practical and sometimes humourous instruction given to monks and novices. In part of it Ajahn Chah recounts his own early experience of progressing from information overload as a result of too much studying, to a simpler, more direct approach to practice. And he also speaks about overcoming the hindrance of doubt – not by shunning it or fighting it, but by observing and investigating it so that one can understand its nature.
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Last week Ajahn Manapo took another school assembly, this time at St. Gregory’s RC Primary School in Stratford. The formula of these assemblies is usually much the same, but the responses from the children are certainly not. During the Q & A section at the end, Ajahn Manapo spoke about the monks’ rules, including the one about not using money. ‘If you’re not allowed money, where do you get your food from?’ asked one little boy. ‘People give us our food,’ Ajahn Manapo replied, before adding: ‘And do you know what we give in return? Have I given you anything today?’ Without hesitating, the young boy replied: ‘You’ve given us happiness.’
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Inspired by this response, in his Dhamma talk on the following Monday, Ajahn Manapo spoke about the reciprocal nature of the relationship between the Sangha and the laity, which is based on an Economy of Gifts, as Ajahn Thanissaro puts it. Recalling the Sangha’s role as the nurse that helps administer the medicine of Dhamma, Ajahn Manapo reminded everyone of the Buddha’s famous injunction to his first 60 enlightened monks, telling them each to wander forth to teach the Dhamma, no two in the same direction: ‘Go now, monks, for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world.’
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We’ve finally got round to re-using some of the old kitchen units from the recently refurbished Wood Cottage kitchen. As you can see from the photo, we now have a much-improved office area in the back porch and lots of cupboards to lose things in…
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We have also had a new gas heater installed in the small shrine room, and the electric Aga has been woken from its summer hibernation. The Aga – which someone very kindly donated last year – is charged during the night on the Economy 7 tariff, and works out quite a bit less expensive to run than our old oil-fired Aga.
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Buddhist monasteries are often refuges not only for suffering humans, but animals, too, and this one is no different. Adding to our menagerie of rescue dogs, cats, a tortoise and a cockerel, we now have a couple of ferrets. They’re young, healthy and tame – and so have most likely been dumped. They found their way here and it looks as though they’d quite like to stay.
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And finally, if there are any friendly lawyers or solicitors out there who would be willing to give us advice concerning various matters (for instance, we are considering changing the status of our charity in order to switch banks), we’d be very grateful if you got in touch.

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Newsletter, Tuesday 22nd September

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Springhill Buddha Grove

The recent unusual spell of mild, clear weather thankfully held on until yesterday morning, meaning that Sunday’s annual Buddha Grove celebration at Springhill Prison went smoothly. Ajahn Amaro and three other monks from Amaravati joined us, as did four monks from Wat Santiwongsaram in Birmingham and two monks from the temple in Oxford. We began the evening with a short puja in front of the prison shrine (pictured below), before hearing speeches from governors past and present, a transformed ex-inmate called Tom, and finally Luangpor.

Luangpor told the story of how this unique space came to be, and reminded us of Sam Cutler’s wish for it to provide a ‘Buddha Field’ of wholesome energy that might affect the whole prison for the better. Incidentally, Sam, who was the brain of the operation, was the former road-manager for the Rolling Stones
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Khun Peter and co. took over the prison kitchen for the afternoon and ensured that inmates, staff and guests (excluding the monks, of course) had their bellies filled with warm, tantalising Thai grub. After that we all made our way back outside for the candlelit procession around the grove. To cap it off, presentations were made to deserving recipients. Sadly, Lord Avebury, who has been a stalwart of these events since the beginning, was not able to be there because of ill-health.

Visiting Monks

Yesterday Ajahn Amaro and a contingent of monks from Amaravati came to formally pay their respects to Luangpor. It’s custom in our tradition for groups of monks to visit the elders of the Sangha during the Rains Retreat to ‘ask for forgiveness’. It’s not that we tend to upset each other very often; this ceremony is simply a way to promote harmony, concord and good-will between us all.
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After spending some time in the shrine room at the Hermitage, we walked around the grounds and then headed over to Bhavana Dhamma, where Maureen and Sister Bodhi – our new 8-precept nun – brewed up some tea. All in all it was a very pleasant afternoon.
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Teaching

In addition to his usual round of prison visits during the last two weeks, Luangpor ventured a little further afield to HMP Usk in South Wales. He also had a couple of engagements in London, one of which concerned recording some suttas for an audio book.

Doing things a little differently in his recent Dhamma talks, Luangpor has taken to reading a text from the Pali Canon before commenting on it. Just the other day he narrated the account of the Buddha advising Rahula on the importance of not lying. The Buddha demonstrates his point with the vivid analogy of the water pitcher and eventually states that a person who feels no shame when telling a deliberate lie is not only empty of virtue but incapable of developing it.

Ajahn Manapo’s week included visiting the Banbury Buddhist Group to lead a meditation and give a talk. As their current theme is concerned with deepening the practice, he spoke about the importance of determination and how best to go about cultivating it.
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On Thursday he paid a visit to Lillington Primary School, which lies on the outskirts of Leamington, to hold a short assembly. Time was limited but he managed to give the children a brief outline of the Buddha’s life before moving on to speak about the three classes of good actions: giving, morality and meditation (dana, sila, bhavana). After that he led the c. 250 kids in a guided meditation, which, judging by their responses (‘I feel happy! Refreshed! Relaxed!, etc.), was a great success.
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And the Sunday before that he also hosted our first Sunday School Class in many years. The next one will take place on 11th October at 12:30 pm.
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Over the weekend we had a group staying at Bhavana Dhamma for the monthly weekend retreat. Many thanks to Benyapa for cooking, and to Simret for providing some lovely dishes. Ajahn Manapo’s talks were centred upon loving-kindness, and particularly on the need to develop it for that person who needs it most: oneself.


(Walking meditation at Bhavana Dhamma)

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Other Stuff
During a routine inspection of our various gas appliances we found that the shrine room heaters have developed a problem. Regular Monday and Friday evening meditators will have no doubt experienced the popping sounds emitted from the heaters when they are on (which you may say is not often enough!). Well, it seems the steel of the main heat exchangers has begun to split, and so these parts need replacing before we can use them again. And unfortunately just today we discovered that the same has also happened to Luangpor’s kuti heater. John, our friendly local gas engineer, is on the case.