Newsletter, December 2017

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Saturday 23rd December 2017

As we prepare to bid farewell to yet another year, we’d like to say thank you very much for all your support. It’s been quite a busy twelve months here at the Hermitage, but all that we’ve achieved has only been made possible by the generosity shown by many of you. The completion of the new roof and the purchase of a car were particular milestones, and both were financed almost entirely by donations made specifically for those projects. Without your gifts of time, food and money this place would not exist, and so for whatever you might have contributed – whether large or small, as a one off or every week – we say Anumodana! (Thank You and Well Done!). We hope we have lived up to your kindness.

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We woke to a pleasant surprise on 19th December

Going back to important recent events, in mid-October we concluded the annual Rains Retreat with a robe offering. Several days before this, a face that will be familiar to anyone who visited here between 1999 and 2003 reappeared. Matthew, who was the driving force behind the acquisition of Wood Cottage (now Bhavana Dhamma) in 2003, has returned to help. We’re very pleased to see him back.

In mid-September, shortly after our last newsletter was released, Luangpor (accompanied by Ajahn Manapo and Ross) finally managed to make the long journey south to Tyneham, the famous Dorset village that was abandoned during the Second World War and which is now an open-air museum of sorts. For some years now, Luangpor has been meaning to return the old school clock which his mother inherited from relatives who once lived in the village. The clock – a large oak and brass contraption – was gratefully received by a friendly Colonel (the area is still controlled by the MOD – which has, it must be said, done a good job of preserving the site) during a brief and informal ceremony in the old school hall.

Two of Luangpor’s relatives from Tyneham were the sisters that often feature in his Dhamma talks on mindfulness. The practice of mindfulness has many facets, three of which are cleanliness, orderliness and caring for our possessions, and the sisters were exemplars of all three. Their gardening tools – which were used every day – were so clean and well-cared for that you could see your reflection in them, and had your dinner been placed on the floor of their shed you’d have been quite happy to have eaten it. Their approach to life brings a certain Ajahn Chah saying to mind: ‘If you want to know the state of practice in a monastery, look how clean the toilets are.’

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The last three months have seen their usual share of prison visiting and associated events. On the 17th September Luangpor, accompanied by a group of about eighteen monks, led the 25th anniversary celebration of the Buddha Grove at HMP Springhill in Buckinghamshire. Khun Peter and his entourage commandeered the kitchen, ensuring that the 400 inmates plus guests were treated to Thai noodles, curries and spring-rolls.

On Saturday 28th November we hosted the fourth and last Angulimala workshop of the year. A crowd of just over twenty Buddhist prison chaplains from as far afield as Devon and Northumberland gathered here for a day of meetings, workshops and conversations, and to collect supplies such as books, Buddha images and meditation beads. Luangpor also distributed Angulimala’s calendar for 2018, the theme of which is the Three Refuges and the Five Precepts.

Ajahn Manapo has continued to lead the monthly retreats at Bhavana Dhamma (the 2018 programme is now online here) and has also spent numerous afternoons teaching Dhamma to schoolchildren both here and at various primary and secondary schools in the area.

Ajahn Manapo with St John’s Priory School from Banbury

During October he made three visits to the Heart of England secondary school in Solihull, and in that time managed to see its Year 8 pupils – all 200+ of them. The response was excellent and the school hopes to repeat it next year.

One monastery visit of note was made by All Saints Primary in Warwick. It was memorable not so much for what happened on the day but for the children’s thank you letters (complete with colourful drawings of the Buddha), in which a number of them proudly stated that they are now meditating all the time.

The short documentary for schools called the Day in the Life of a Buddhist Monk that was mentioned in our last newsletter has now been released. It features Ajahn Manapo talking about his life, as well as Buddhist teaching in general, and is accompanied by scenes of him going about his business at the Hermitage. If you like, you can watch it here.

In late October we marked the one-year anniversary of King Bhumiphol of Thailand’s passing. Luangpor made two trips to Wat Buddhapadipa (the Thai temple in Wimbledon) – both for the anniversary, and for the funeral. The latter was a massive affair, with about 3000 people gathering to say their last farewells to their beloved former King. Although a man of prodigious wealth, in private the King lived in relative simplicity, and he devoted much of his time to helping improve the lives of Thai people. He had also been a keen meditator, and was a great patron of the Thai Forest Tradition, often visiting the forest meditation masters of the day. On Saturday 28th we held our own small event for Warwick University’s Thai Society (photos below).

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As for what’s next: we will be holding our regular New Year’s Eve meditation next week. It will begin at 8 pm, with chanting, meditation and a Dhamma talk. Following that we’ll break for tea, before returning to the shrine room for the last time this year. We will then see in 2018 with our eyes closed and minds concentrated. At midnight, the monks will chant the Parittas (verses of blessing and protection) while those in attendance will be invited to light an incense stick at the shrine as a symbolic gesture of letting go of the past and determining to make the most of the future. Anyone is welcome to join.

On New Year’s Day there will be another small event here. Khun Peter and Co. will be coming up from London to offer the meal, and we hope to be joined by many local monastery friends. It’s going to begin at about 10:30 am, with those present taking the Three Refuges and Five Precepts, and will be followed by an alms-round for the monks and then a Thai buffet for everybody else. After that there will be a chance to make offerings, practise meditation and listen to a Dhamma Talk. If there’s a better way to start 2018, let us know!

On January 3rd, the day after the New Year retreat finishes at Bhavana Dhamma, Ajahn Manapo will fly off to Thailand. Luangpor will follow a week later, just in time to celebrate the 26th anniversary of Ajahn Chah’s passing on the 16th. Next year would have seen Ajahn Chah’s 100th birthday, and so Wat Pah Pong – the monastery he founded and the home of our tradition – is preparing for an especially large gathering. Luangpor and Ajahn Manapo will return on 1st February, in time to relieve Ajahn Cittagutto, who will be monastery sitting while they’re away.

That’s it from us for now. May 2018 bring you good health, success and happiness.

Happy New Year