Newsletter: Wednsesday 10th October, 2018

This year’s Rains Retreat will end on Wednesday 24th October, and our public celebration and robe offering will take place from 10 am – 2 pm on the following Sunday (the 28th) at Bhavana Dhamma. If you’d like to help us set up on the Saturday, please head over to Bhavana Dhamma (Wood Cottage) for about 1:30 pm.

A splash of colour in a dreary place

Believe it or not, the photo above was taken inside a prison. It’s HMP Springhill, to be precise, where, on Sunday 16th September, we gathered to celebrate the building of its Buddha Grove 26 years ago. Luangpor had the following to say about the event:

“Once again last Sunday we had a marvellous evening for our annual celebration of the Buddha Grove at HMP Springhill. Monks from five temples attended and contributed to the chanting. And as usual many Thai people gathered to give their time and their expertise, as well as the food, and cook for the entire prison and guests. The evening ended with a spectacular candlelit circumambulation of the Buddha Grove.

This has been happening every year but one since 1992, when the Buddha Grove was opened. It was built by prisoners for prisoners, with contributions from the wider Buddhist community, including a large Buddha Image that was sent specially from Thailand.

A huge thank you to everyone who contributed to the success of the evening. Anumodana!”

The Springhill Buddha Grove was the first of its kind in the UK prisons, and was the brain-child of a prisoner. After realising that there wasn’t much room inside the prison for a space that the Buddhists could call their own, he persuaded the then Governor to provide a small piece of land in the grounds of the former stately home. A beautiful plot (somewhat larger than what the Governor had first imagined) in the shade of mature trees was requisitioned for the purpose, and with the help of a JCB, the prison strong-men, and a champion bricklayer the Buddha Grove was born.

Two weeks before the Springhill celebration, on Saturday 1st September, we hosted the penultimate Angulimala workshop of the year. We are always on the lookout for books and other supplies ready for the Buddhist prison chaplains to take away when they attend these workshops, and fortunately we had not long taken delivery of a large consignment of newly-printed Ajahn Chah books. Hopefully many of these are wending their way through the prison system as you read this.

The Angulimala team of chaplains is going strong, with over 40 members from most of the principal Buddhist traditions covering the majority of prisons in England and Wales. However, we are always searching for more potential prison chaplains and so if you, or anyone else that you know, are interested in taking the Dhamma into these troubled places, please get in touch!

Apart from his regular local visits, occasionally Luangpor has to venture further afield to the odd distant prison, usually because there’s no Buddhist chaplain there. Last month it was HMP Usk, in South Wales, and HMP Littlehey, in Cambridgeshire. Next month he’ll be heading all the way up to Glasgow for the Scottish Prison Service Conference.

On Wednesday 5th September Ajahn Manapo conducted his very first alms-round in Warwick. Although he’s been on alms-round many times whilst out wandering on tudong, he’s never actually tried it in our nearest town. He had this to say about the experience:

I wandered around the main shopping area for a bit before positioning myself outside the Market Hall Museum on Swan Street. I got a great response. I must have been there for only 25 minutes and it was still quite early in the day, so it’s a promising start.

We monks depend upon the generosity of others. Living in a monastery here in the UK, where the alms-round isn’t an established tradition, it’s easy to forget this. And so it’s good to get out and try to establish it here on our doorstep.

People usually try to give me money, but once I’ve explained that monks can only accept food, they usually nip off and buy me something. I think the fact that we can’t accept money is very meaningful to them, and that by offering only food a deep and immediate connection is made between us.

Ajahn Manapo has now been going almost every Wednesday morning since then and, barring illness and hurricanes, he hopes to continue into the autumn and winter. You’ll be able to find him standing outside the Market Hall Museum, usually between 10 and 10:30 am.

On Friday 21st, Luangpor had a visit from old friend and former monk Joseph ‘Pabakharo’ Kappel. Luangpor and Joseph ordained together under Ajahn Chah all the way back in 1972. And although Joseph gave up the robes over twenty years ago, Ajahn Chah and his tradition still remain very close to his heart and he likes to stay in touch with his former monastic companions. Luangpor was very pleased to see him, and no doubt they reminisced about ‘the good old days,’ back when monks were treated to just one cup of coffee a fortnight (which was often cold, because Ajahn Chah kept them waiting for it).

It’s the start of a new school year which means invitations for visits are flowing in thick and fast. On Monday 24th September, Ajahn Manapo took an assembly at Peterbrook Primary School in Solihull. Then last Thursday he visited Allesley Hall Primary in Coventry for the first time, where he spent just over an hour with their Year 6 class. At the end, one of the boys said: ‘It’s like you’ve opened a gate to show us that there’s a different way to live.’ He then asked if he could bow to the Buddha image. He was 10 or 11. Amazing!

Also, just last Monday Ajahn Manapo held a short meditation workshop at Southam College during the lunch break as part of its Mental Health Awareness Week. And next Tuesday he’ll be receiving a class from All Saints Primary School in Warwick.

Ajahn Manapo speaking to the class at Allesley Hall and showing them the monk’s water filter, which is used to ensure monks don’t kill waterborne creatures.

The Warwick Uni Buddhist Society has resumed its Monday evening meetings. Luangpor leads the evenings, which take place from 6:30 pm – 8 pm and include a guided meditation, a Dhamma Talk and a Q&A session. Unfortunately there is not yet a dedicated room in which the Buddhists are able to meet regularly, and so you’ll either need to contact us, or keep an eye on the Society’s Facebook page to check the venue. These evenings are open to all.

On the weekend of the 19th – 21st October there will be a retreat at Bhavana Dhamma. This retreat is full; however there are a few spaces left on the November and New Year retreats. Be quick if you’d like to attend.

As far as maintenance of our property goes, the refurbishment of our back porch is almost finished and it looks great (above left). We’ve also just built a new walking meditation path down by the retreat kuti (above right). Thanks to Andy for providing the decking and to Tom for the concrete blocks. The old mortar on three sides of the main house has also been raked out and we’re ready for re-pointing. However, that’ll have to wait as Andy is now firmly ensconced in his work on Luangpor’s kuti.