Monthly Archives: October 2014

Lambeth Palace

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On Monday the 13th, the morning after our big day here, I had to have an early meal in order to be in the car before ten to be on my way to London and Lambeth Palace for the licensing of the Revd Canon Mike Kavanagh as the new Chaplain General and Archdeacon to the Prisons. Despite the rain and occasional hold-ups we made pretty good time and got there shortly before noon, when the service was to begin. It took a a couple of minutes to persuade the ill-tempered gatekeeper to open the massive wooden doors into the palace courtyard and then once out of the car and in the palace itself another few minutes passed while I was escorted down a couple of huge corridors with portraits of former Archbishops beaming down from the walls on either side. When I arrived at the ancient Archbishop’s Chapel the service had just begun and the Archbishop of Canterbury was speaking. Unfortunately, from where I sat I could barely hear him and certainly couldn’t make out what he was saying. It was a bit like that for much of the twenty-five minutes or so that remained, some parts were audible and understandable and some were not. Whether it was the acoustics or the inability of the participants to project, I’m not sure. During the procedure, Mike had to swear his allegiance to HM the Queen and promise to obey the Archbishops of Canterbury, York and Wales. At the end the various Faith Advisers and Chaplains present were invited to recite together this Affirmation:

We come from many Faith traditions: together we care for all those people held in our prisons.
We commit ourselves afresh, as friends and colleagues, to provide opportunities for all to grow and develop into men and women of integrity who are strong and confident, learned, wise and truthful; free from crime, from the fear of crime and from anxiety.

We are united in our desire to work for the common good and to continue to work together in trust, in peace and in harmony, in a spirit of friendship and goodwill, in confidence that it will bear fruit in the lives of many.

Afterwards there was a buffet lunch, which, of course wasn’t much good to me but I enjoyed holding a glass of water and chatting to people while they balanced their plates and drinks and ate – and occasionally dropped a forkful on the carpet. At pudding time, a gong was sounded and Faith Advisers were invited to take their puddings in the Pink Drawing Room and sit round the table in conversation with the Archbishop to give him a sense of some of the key people supporting multifaith prison chaplaincy in England and Wales. When I had a chance to speak I told of my long involvement in prison chaplaincy and expressed my concern for the continuing development of multifaith prison chaplaincy. I explained that I didn’t see it as appropriate for Buddhist chaplains to be employed. I am happy for them to remain sessional and I see no reason why that should diminish their place within a chaplaincy team but I said that I have always felt that were I a prisoner I wouldn’t really be able to wholly trust a chaplain who was tied into the establishment of the prison. It was soon over and on the way back and since I’ve had much to think over of what I saw and heard in those couple of hours.

It doesn’t seem possible that thirteen years have passed since we last assembled in the Archbishop’s Chapel for the licensing of Mike’s predecessor, William Noblett. That was two Archbishops back as well!

End of the Rains Retreat, Robe & Requisites Offering 2014

Every year during the month following the Rains Retreat or Vassa, the Buddha has permitted what is known as the Spreading of the Kathina. What this means is the offering of cloth to the Sangha by lay devotees, which is then ‘spread’ by members of the Sangha who cut, sew and dye a robe. That robe, which has to be completed before the following dawn, the Sangha then formally gives to one deserving bhikkhu. Since the minimum number of monks required to form a quorum for the Sangha is four, it follows that for a Kathina to be enacted at least five monks must be present. In forest monasteries it’s generally understood that those five must have spent the Vassa together in the one place. Nowadays, in many temples it is a made-up robe that is offered and the Vinaya interpretation followed allows the necessary number to made up with monks invited from other monasteries – but that remains controversial. The Wat Pah Pong practice that I endeavour to maintain has always been that for a Kathina we must have at least five monks who have spent the Rains together. Unfortunately, that rarely happens at The Forest Hermitage, especially in recent years and so, as this year, we don’t qualify for a Kathina.

An alternative, which so far as the laity involved is concerned is almost the same, is for there to be an offering of robes and requisites, the robes being deemed ‘forest cloth’ – in other words, cloth that has been discarded and has no owner. And that is what happened again this year at The Forest Hermitage on Sunday, October 12th. Once again Khun Peter was the principal sponsor and thanks to him and his team and the two coaches that he organised from London, we were packed and had a wonderful day. Not only were there two coaches from London but another from Warwick Uni organised by the Thai Society along with members of the Warwick Uni Buddhist Society and naturally, plenty more people came by car. Mercifully, it was a dry day, albeit a bit misty and damp and not quite as warm as we would have liked, but no rain. These great Buddhist events should always express Dana, Sila and Bhavana and that day abundant generosity was on display, with people taking the chance to renew their Precepts as well as enjoying the opportunity to profit by listening to some Dhamma. And everything, it has to be said, was conducted in an atmosphere of fun and friendship.

As I’ve got older, so tears have come more readily to my eyes and as I watched people streaming in through the gate with their bags bulging with food and all manner of things to offer and share, and taking such pleasure, such joy, in coming all this way to spend a few hours doing what was good and wholesome, I couldn’t help myself, my eyes moistened and the tears began to flow. You wonderful people! In a world that can be so ghastly, you showed where it can be so good. Anumodana!

Watch a video here or take a look at some pictures here.