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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.

Newsletter: Friday 20th November

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NL Nov

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
.

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
 .

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.