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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!