Newsletter, Tuesday 12th September 2017

Since our last newsletter (eight months ago!) many things have happened here at the Hermitage, as you might have guessed.

Perhaps most significant of all has been the completion of the roof renovation project. Work started at the beginning of May and was more or less completed by the end of July. Andy the Builder led the project, with ongoing assistance provided by Hermitage residents and guests. We also had several work days where many of you showed up to lend a hand, helping to remove tiles (and later put them back on), strip off the old baton, pull out rusty nails, cut insulation… It was a real team effort and we’re very grateful indeed for the effort made and time given.

Of course it all had to be paid for, and we’re pleased to announce that this has now been done thanks to many donations both large and small. According to Andy it was a £30,000 job, but we managed to do it for just under £23,000, largely thanks to saving on labour costs. We now have a ‘warm roof’, with eight inches of insulation (compared to little over zero inches before), which should make quite a difference to the warmth and energy efficiency of the property. The fascia and barge boards are all rosewood-effect PVC (matching the new windows) and will therefore require minimum maintenance.

And so, from Luangpor and everyone at the Hermitage, Anumodana! (Well Done and Thank You!) to everyone who contributed with your money and time.

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Just last weekend, on Saturday 2nd September, we hosted the third Angulimala workshop of the year. Luangpor had managed to secure Peter Clarke, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, as the guest speaker, and we therefore had an unusually large turn-out of 30 Buddhist prison chaplains who were eager to hear him speak. Because of the expected larger numbers, the majority of the day’s meetings were held in one of our festival marquees, which, as you can see below, was situated in the field and incorporated the main Buddha image. Thankfully the weather was fine and the marquee a great success.

At the end of the afternoon Luangpor took the opportunity to present everyone with a copy of the new book, Common Buddhist Text – Guidance and Insight from the Buddha, which was launched by Thailand’s Mahachula’ University when he was there in May. This is a book he believes will be of enormous help to everyone in the prisons – both inmates and chaplains.

As always, the hunt is on for new prison chaplains to accommodate the ever-growing number of prisoners throughout the UK. If you are interested in the challenging yet highly rewarding role of Buddhist Prison Chaplain, please read this and get in touch.

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On Sunday 17th September we will be making our annual trip to HMP Springhill for the Buddha Grove ceremony. It will have been 25 years since the opening of this special place (the first of its kind), and we expect to be joined by up to twenty monks from various monasteries, as well as a good crowd of our supporters. As usual, Khun Peter will commandeer the prison kitchen for the afternoon, and, assisted by his gang of helpers, will ensure the 320 inmates plus staff and guests are well fed with Thai food and kindness.

Back in May Luangpor attended a conference in Thailand, as part of the Visakha Puja celebrations, where he spoke on Mindfulness in the Ajahn Chah Tradition. Unfortunately, owing to a spectacular electrical storm, the programme was somewhat disrupted and he ended up speaking for only twenty minutes. However, it was still very well-received and he was able to provide an insight into Ajahn Chah’s unique approach to practice. Following that he was invited to the UN building where it was announced that, to his surprise, he would be giving another talk. And then, only four days after having arrived, it was again time to board the plane.

With the start of the school year Ajahn Manapo’s calendar is beginning to fill up, not only with school visits but local cub group visits, too. As mentioned in previous newsletters he has been involved in the production of a new RE syllabus for Coventry and Warwickshire. This has now been launched and we hope the teachers will find the Buddhist content both helpful and meaningful. He has also been working with a non-profit organisation called TrueTube, which produces free RE video resources for schools. They are in the process of creating a series of day-in-the-life videos, and Ajahn Manapo features in the Buddhist one.

Just before the beginning of the Vassa, in early July, Ajahn Manapo embarked on another tudong – this time with a difference: he began at the monastery gate and just walked, following no particular route and with little notion of where he was going. He did all of this without money or food, depending solely upon the generosity of people he met on the way. Five days later he ended up just east of Bristol. It was a remarkable experience which was capped off quite unexpectedly with him teaching meditation to the Vicar of Badminton on the front lawn of the vicarage. An account of his adventure is hopefully on the way.

The monthly retreats at Bhavana Dhamma continue to be popular and as such fill up pretty quickly. We are now taking bookings for the New Year retreat, and so if you’d like to apply please go ahead. There are a few spaces left for men on the October retreat and spaces for both men and women on the early December retreat. We are very grateful to everybody who helps to support these retreats, and in particular, Benyapa. The photos below are from the August bank holiday retreat.

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While working on the roof we had to re-point some of the cement between the brickwork, and as we’ve often lamented the fact that the brickwork was ever painted (long before our time), we took the opportunity to try to strip off the paint. After some experimentation we’ve found the right product and method, and so we are now in the process of revealing the bricks in all their old-fashioned glory. As you can see from the photos, it should be worth the effort. If anyone would like to lend a hand in the coming months we’d be very grateful!

Another imminent project is the resurfacing of the Bhavana Dhamma (Wood Cottage) forecourt. Within the next few weeks it will be tarmacked, which will solve the perennial problems caused by the rain and mud. It won’t be cheap, but it needs to be done.

And finally, now that it’s the middle of September, and only a few days past the full moon, we are just over two-thirds of the way through the annual Rains Retreat (the Vassa). The Vassa (or Pansa, in Thai) is what monks use to count their years in robes. Consequently, this will be Luangpor’s 46th and Ajahn Manapo’s 17th. Also in residence for this period have been Samanera Pannyavuddho, the novice, and Anagarika Ross, who is both back-up chef and Luangpor’s driver. The Rains Retreat will end on Thursday 5th October, and our public celebration will take place on the following Sunday, being the 8th. More details to follow in the next couple of weeks.

That’s it from us for now. May you be happy and free from suffering.

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