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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Tyneham

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

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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Tuesday 3rd January, 2017

In the forest monasteries of our tradition, January means one thing: the annual Ajahn Chah memorial celebration. On the 16th of this month, when it will have been 25 years since he passed away, Wat Pah Pong will host a gathering of thousands – perhaps even tens of thousands – of monks, nuns and lay-people as they remember the great man and his legacy.

Because of this, both Luangpor and Ajahn Manapo will be away in Thailand for most of the month. Ajahn Manapo flies out this evening, having a bit of time to himself before he receives Luangpor at Wat Pah Nanachat on the 14th. After a week or so in the Northeast they will fly over to Mandalay in neighboring Burma, from where they hope to catch a boat to Bagan. A visit to Yangon, and specifically the magnificent Shwedagon Pagoda, will conclude their Burmese excursion.

Luangpor circumambulating the Shwe Zigon Pagoda in Bagan, last January

After Burma they’ll have a couple of days in Cha-am, in Southern Thailand, before Ajahn Manapo heads back to the UK on the 31st. On the 4th February Luangpor will zip over to Korat for a couple of nights at Wat Pah Rattanawan, the rather well-appointed monastery of Ajahn Nyanadhammo, where there will be a sima dedication ceremony. Luangpor will land back on British soil (or London tarmac) on the 6th.

Ajahn Cittagutto, a German monk who ordained here in 1992 and who normally stays in the north of Thailand, has very kindly offered to hold the reigns (and Jimmy’s dog lead) while they’re away. The Monday and Friday meditation evenings will thus continue as normal, as will the Warwick Uni Buddhist Society’s Monday meetings.

The last few months have, as usual, seen their fair share of prison- and school-related activities. Luangpor led two Angulimala workshops, handing out the ever-popular Angulimala calendars in the December meeting, and clocked up countless miles visiting both local and distant prisons, including trips to Portland and Doncaster.

A perennial challenge that faces Luangpor in his work is the need to recruit new prison chaplains. The difficulty is compounded by the fact that many of those who apply are unwilling to keep the fifth precept properly – a precept which is of the utmost importance when you are trying to help men and women who for the most part have serious alcohol and drug-related problems, and who are often behind bars because of misusing those substances.

Children from All Saints’ School in Warwick meditating in the Shrine Room.

Ajahn Manapo has been kept relatively busy with not only school visits, but local cub and scout groups, too. As usual, the meditation was a real hit, with one girl at Balsall Common’s Heart of England School remarking, after a few minutes of focussing on her breath, ‘I feel like I’ve just been on holiday and come back home.’

The End of Vassa celebration came and went in mid-October, and because of the passing of His Majesty King Bhumipol only a few days before, it also served as a memorial for the widely-adored late Thai King. Several retreats have also taken place at Bhavana Dhamma since our last newsletter, the most recent of which finished just yesterday as twelve retreatants spent the final three days of 2016 and the first two days of 2017 in silent meditation.

End of Vassa gathering on the 16th October

Of course, the highlight of that retreat was joining in with the New Year’s Eve celebration at the Hermitage. Unfortunately, Ajahn Cittagutto’s flight from Germany on the 31st was cancelled because of London fog, and so he wasn’t able to lend his voice to the midnight chanting. But it was still a singularly uplifting occasion: it’s not often you get a room of thirty people celebrating the beginning of a new year in meditative silence and without the assistance of intoxicants. If only more would follow our example!

Going back to the subject of retreats at Bhavana Dhamma, the schedule for 2017 is now online. Bookings open three months before the start date of each retreat, unless you’ve attended one before – then you can book at any time.

These retreats could not function without the support of people like you, and we are particularly grateful to Benyapa for her unwavering service in the kitchen, and to Emma for helping to maintain the house and garden. We are also indebted to the many people who have provided food over the last year, including Kanlaya, Sarah, Anne, Nawaporn, Priya, Trish, Donna, Fon and Matthew.

As with any old building, the maintenance and improvement of the Hermitage is an ongoing project. We are lucky to have Andy at the helm, who is not only a peerless builder (the term builder really doesn’t do him justice) but also a great friend. Thanks to him the installation of the new windows is 99% complete – there’s just one little bit of finishing off to do, but as it involves a brittle phone line and thus the cooperation of BT we are not optimistic that it will be accomplished any time this century… Once again, a big thank you to Noi, Pen and Oi for sponsoring the windows.

We have also been in talks with Andy about our roof, which is in quite a dilapidated state. It is our intention to replace it later in the year, installing a ‘warm roof’ in its place. It’ll be a massive job, but we haven’t got much choice, and the new so-called ‘warm roof’ will make a substantial difference to the building’s insulation properties.

That’s it from us for now. We at the Hermitage and Bhavana Dhamma wish you all a Very Happy New Year. May you continue to grow in virtue, wisdom and peace of mind. Hopefully we’ll see you here in the not-too distant future.

Saturday 24th August

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Buddhist monasteries may for the most part be refuges of stillness and solitude, but there’s one thing that even we can’t escape: roadworks.

Yes, our little lane will soon become the site of diggers, portaloos and hard-hats as the local council begin replacing the bridge between the Hermitage and Sherbourne. Work will begin in the first week of October and is estimated to take up to twelve weeks. During this time you won’t be able to access the Hermitage from the Sherbourne (Warwick) end of Fulbrook Lane and will instead need to approach us from the Hampton Lucy (Stratford) end.

Continuing with his trend of reading from the Pali Canon on Friday evenings, just the other week Luangpor narrated the Angulimala Sutta. Here we witness the Buddha’s kindness and understanding bring about a remarkable change in a serial killer going by the nickname of Angulimala (which means ‘Finger Necklace’ – we’ll spare you the gory details).

As a result of his encounter with the Buddha, not only did this formidable character renounce harming others, but he ordained as a monk and eventually attained Enlightenment. Towards the end of the sutta King Pasenadi of Kosala, who, with a troop of soldiers, had been trying to hunt down Angulimala, praises the Buddha: ‘What we failed to do with both force and weapons, you accomplished with neither force nor weapons.’

That last quote needs to be carved into the office door of every world leader.

On the subject of the Buddha’s words, although the internet is allowing more people than ever to access the Dhamma, it is also proving to be a veritable breeding ground for, among other questionable things, fake Buddha quotes. Indeed, if you do a Google image search of ‘Buddha quotes’ you’ll be hard pressed to find a single genuine quote! As a precaution, we’d suggest always using reliable sources (which rules out most dedicated quotation websites), and being skeptical of quotes that lack a sutta reference. Generally speaking, if a quote sounds like it’s been uttered by Mystic Meg, then it probably has.


On Saturday 3rd September we hosted the penultimate Angulimala workshop of the year. About 20 chaplains from various corners of the country gathered for several hours of meditation, discussions and meetings. It’s worth pointing out that Angulimala, the Buddhist Prison Chaplaincy, is one of a kind; no other religion has a comparable organisation that supports its members as Angulimala does.

Last Sunday Luangpor led a large group of monks and Thai supporters during the annual Springhill Prison Buddha Grove Celebration. As well as the usual chanting, speeches, Thai buffet (spearheaded by the indefatigable Khun Peter) and candlelit circumambulation, we also held a short tree-planting ceremony for Lord Avebury, the late Patron of Angulimala and a veteran of this event. A gingko biloba, enshrined within a fine cast-iron tree guard and marked with a slate plaque, has taken its place in the grove. His son, the new Lord Avebury, as well as his widow, Lindsay, and daughter, Victoria, were all in attendance.

While on the subject of prisons, we’re pleased to announce that Adrian is now driving Luangpor. No sooner had we stuck up a poster in the foyer asking for help when he appeared out of the blue (fresh from China) and said he’d do it.

In a recent Monday evening Dhamma Talk Ajahn Manapo spoke about fear and how to overcome it. He suggested that instead of focusing on the object of our fear we should be mindful of the fear itself, and in particular of the various physical sensations and feelings associated with it. When we do this, he said, we will see that it is in fact our aversion to these feelings that is at the root of the problem. By investigating these sensations not only do we extricate the mind from the whirlpool of thoughts, but we begin to discover their true nature: that they are transient and without substance. Once this is seen, the aversion loses its foothold and the fear – and thus the suffering – falls away.

A week last Sunday the Hermitage witnessed another Sunday School Class. The recent summer holidays meant a few things had been forgotten and so Ajahn Manapo did a quick re-cap of some of the key episodes of the Buddha’s early life. Afterwards they had a Dhamma chat (with the odd foray into matters less-connected with Buddhism…) before practising mindfulness of breathing for a few minutes. As a little experiment, at the beginning of the session he had the children recite, in English, the five precepts. It was very successful and will now be a staple ingredient of each monthly class, the next of which is on Sunday 9th October, at 12:30 pm.

16th-18th September Weekend Retreat at Bhavana Dhamma

Last weekend Ajahn Manapo led a retreat at Bhavana Dhamma. Being that it’s the Rains Retreat he wasn’t able to leave the Hermitage before dawn and so the eleven intrepid retreatants ventured over there for the two morning sittings. The weather was fine. the food was even better (thanks to Hui Peng from Leeds), and the meditation was, hopefully, very productive for all involved. There are a few spaces left on the November and New Year retreats, so apply sooner rather than later if you’d like to attend.

It’s almost October which means that the Warwick University Buddhist Society will soon be kicking off its twice-weekly meetings. Luangpor will lead the Monday sessions and Ajahn Manapo the Thursday ones. As usual, these evenings are open to all, and so if you’re in the area feel free to drop in. Contact us for details on the time and venue.

As the end of this year’s Rains Retreat (Vassa) approaches we are looking ahead to our final major celebration of the year. Pavarana Day, which marks the last day of the Vassa, falls on Sunday 16th and so, unusually, we are able to have our public celebration on the actual day.

The word Pavarana means invitation, and it refers to the Buddha’s instruction that all monks, having completed the three month retreat period, invite their fellows in the monastic life to offer constructive criticism of their behaviour. Although we tend to recoil from criticism, the Buddha considered it an invaluable element of the spiritual life, as exemplified in this quote from the Dhammapada:

‘Should one find a man who points out faults and who reproves, let him follow such a wise and sagacious person as one would a guide to hidden treasure. It is always better, and never worse, to cultivate such an association.’  *

The actual celebration of Pavarana Day will begin at 10:30 am with the taking of the Refuges and Precepts. Immediately after will be the alms-round, followed by a vegetarian meal. Once everyone has eaten, Khun Peter will lead the robe offerings, before Luangpor and Ajahn Manapo give Dhamma Talks. It should all be over by about 1:30 pm. As we anticipate a crowd of well over 100 we have arranged for our local luxury toilet hire firm (who, we found out on Tuesday, have been giving us a substantial discount all along) to provide us with extra facilities for the day.

All are welcome, so please feel free to come along, perhaps even bringing some vegetarian food to offer and share.

______________________________

* Source: Access to Insight

News: Saturday 20th August, 2016

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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!

News: Wednesday 29th June, 2016

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It’s only a week or so since Luangpor returned from his brief trip to Thailand but already it seems like the distant past. His primary reason for going was to attend the June meeting at Wat Pah Pong. He was joined there by Ajahn Amaro, Abbot of Amaravati, and with the help of Ajahn Kevali as translator they discussed with the many Thai monks present important matters concerning the Western branch monasteries of our tradition. While over there Luangpor also had a chance to catch up with some friends including Phra Chonyanmunee, Khun Yod, and former Warwick Uni students Ant and Ken.

Some of you know that Luangpor is seldom short of animal companionship. Over the years his compound has been home to tortoises, cockerels, rabbits, a duck, a goose, a parrot, and, not least, many canine friends.

Just over twelve years ago Ben arrived. A very large and athletic Hungarian Vizsla, we found him in a pitiful state in a local rescue centre. Luangpor immediately took to the young deer hound and within a few days Ben had found a new home at the Hermitage. A little over a year ago Ben’s back legs started to fail and for the last six months he’d been incapable of walking without our help. Then last Thursday, having spent the afternoon lying on the grass in the sun, Ben passed away. He was just over fourteen – an exceptionally good age for such a large dog.

On the subject of death (an ever-present theme in this life of ours!) this Thursday Luangpor and Ajahn Manapo will be heading down to London for Lord Avebury’s memorial service. Lord Avebury, the former Patron of Angulimala and a great friend and supporter of Luangpor’s, passed away in February. His funeral had been a small and discreet affair, with just relatives, one or two close friends and Luangpor and a group of monks present. Thursday’s service will be an opportunity for his much wider circle of friends, colleagues and admirers to say their farewells. Lord Avebury was not only a friend to Luangpor, but to all British Buddhists as he was our sole representative in Parliament. As such he will be sorely missed.

Last weekend we had our monthly retreat at Bhavana Dhamma. Thankfully the rain that seems to have been falling continuously for weeks just about managed to restrain itself, and seven women and three men enjoyed a couple of days of silence, simplicity and meditation. Thank you very much to Matthew and his friend, and to Kanlaya and Stephen, for providing the food. There is a waiting list for the August retreat, but there are spaces on the 16 – 18 September one. As always, spaces are limited.

Ever since his first tudong walk along the Cotswold Way in 2010 Ajahn Manapo has tried to do one each year. And so in just over a week, after spending some time in a remote Snowdonian cottage with his brother, Tim, he’s aiming to walk back from the Welsh coast by himself. He will of course not be carrying food or money, and will instead be depending on the generosity of people he meets along the way. He’ll begin in Machinlleth and follow Glyndwr’s Way to Knighton, before hopping onto the Teme Valley Way which ends up in Worcester. Being that he has to be back for our Asalha Puja celebration on the 17th July (which is also Luangpor’s birthday) he probably won’t have time to walk all the way. Let’s hope the clouds have run out of rain by then and, more importantly, that he gets fed!

As mentioned above Asalha Puja is approaching. This is when we celebrate the Buddha’s First Sermon, which we call the Dhamma-cakka-pavatthana Sutta – the Discourse on Setting in Motion the Wheel of Truth. It was the occasion when he first introduced the Middle Way and the Four Noble Truths to the Five Ascetics. The actual day is Tuesday 19th, but we will celebrate it on Sunday 17th. Our celebration will begin at 10:30 am and will conclude at about 1:30 pm. Everyone is welcome. Please bring vegetarian food to offer and share.

The day after Asalha Puja always marks the beginning of the year’s Vassa – the three month long ‘Rains Retreat’, a time when all monks must stay in one place. The Buddha instituted it after farmers complained that monks were damaging their paddy field paths as they wandered during the Monsoons. Obviously the initial reason for the Vassa is no longer relevant, (not from shortage of rain, but because of tarmac); instead it has now become a period of community stability and intensified practice. The Vassa is also the measure by which monks count their monastic ages: this will be Luangpor’s 45th and Ajahn Manapo’s 16th.

On to more mundane matters, our trusty Citroen C5, which has transported Luangpor (with the help of a number of drivers) to prisons all over the country for the last 8 or so years, is, as our friendly mechanic Nanu puts it, getting tired. And so the hunt is on for a replacement. We’re looking at another used estate car, which is safe, economical and reliable. Something like an Audi A4 or VW Passat has been recommended.

And finally, this Thursday will be Maureen’s birthday. Before we tell you how old she will be (she won’t mind) please ensure that you’re seated. She will be 86. Yes, 86, and still able to sling a sack of potatoes through the front door. Happy Birthday Maureen, and thank you for the unwavering support, dedication and generosity you’ve shown over the last three decades. You are one of a kind.

News: Wednesday 8th June, 2016

For the first time in many years Luangpor will be flying to Thailand to attend the June meeting at Wat Pah Pong, the principal monastery in our tradition. It takes place on Ajahn Chah’s birthday (the 16th) and is an occasion when many senior monks gather to discuss various important matters. He’ll be away from Tuesday 14th to Monday 20th. Incidentally, this is a time when Luangpor prefers not to be away in Thailand: not only is it hot and wet over there, but he’d much rather be enjoying England’s long evenings, walking in the fields with Jimmy, his trusty Norfolk Terrier.

Two and half weeks ago we had our Visakha Puja celebration. The day dawned cloud-free and the sun rose to smile down upon a crowd of about 150 people. It was good to see a real mix of devotees – Thais, Burmese, Sri Lankans, Malaysians, Singaporeans, Cambodians and even a decent crop of British came to remember the Buddha’s Birth, Enlightenment and Final Passing.

On the following Saturday Luangpor ventured across the border and chaired the yearly Angulimala Scotland workshop. Unfortunately the Scottish prison system is very much behind its English counterpart when it comes to multi-faith chaplaincy, and the Buddhist chaplains up there are having a hard time taking the Buddha’s Teachings into the prisons.

On the same weekend Ajahn Manapo led a retreat at Bhavana Dhamma. It seemed to go well (no one ran away), and the retreatants were very well fed thanks to the efforts and generosity of Hui Peng from Leeds. The next retreat takes place on the last weekend of June and there are two spaces left for men. There is one space left for a man on the August week-long retreat. Please apply a.s.a.p. if you’re interested.

In the week before the half-term break Ajahn Manapo hosted a couple of school visits. Firstly there was a class of 6-7 year olds from Coleshill, and then we had a visit from Moreton Morrell Primary, which is just a stone’s throw from here. Both groups were exceptionally well behaved, and the children from Moreton Morrell were an especially impressive bunch of meditators.

Still on the subject of Buddhism in schools, Ajahn Manapo has been working hard on formulating a new Programme of Study for schools in the Coventry and Warwickshire areas. Just last Monday he attended another SACRE meeting, where his work was shared with other members. It was very well received. Many thanks to Spencer for giving an afternoon to help Ajahn Manapo with this important project.

Last Sunday Khun Peter and Co. came up from London. After the meal Luangpor led a meditation and gave a Dhamma Talk. During the latter he spoke about how Dhamma talks should be focussed on the Dhamma and not the personality of the speaker, a point which seems to be lost on a number of well-known Buddhist teachers these days. It is for this reason that monks often close their eyes, or hold a fan in front of their face – techniques which serve to lessen the presence of personality. As Ajahn Chah said, when it comes to giving a teaching, you should just step to one side and let the Dhamma do the talking.

This weekend Rob will be away. He’s got a few last-minute personal matters which need attending to before he embarks on his training as an anagarika (a white-robed postulant), the first step to becoming a monk. On Saturday Luangpor and Ajahn Manapo will be eating their one meal of the day at a Khun Dtoi’s house in Rugby and on Sunday we have our monthly Sunday School class.

News: Friday 20th May, 2016

Today is the full moon day of the Indian lunar month of Vesakha, which means it’s the anniversary of the Buddha’s Birth, Enlightenment and Passing. We’ll be celebrating it on Sunday from 10:30 am onward. Let’s hope it’s a nice sunny day…

Last Saturday Luangpor ventured over to The Orchard, a charming little retreat house located just this side of the Welsh border in Herefordshire. He had been invited by Ad Brugman and his group to lead a meditation, give a Dhamma talk, and host a Q&A session.

On the evening before that we had our monthly BDF meeting, the BDF being the trust that administers the financial and business affairs of the Hermitage. Dr. Chris Green, our Chairman, reported on his progress as he prepares to set up a new, replacement trust – one that will be better suited to our requirements. We are also on the lookout for a new trust secretary, so if you are interested please do get in touch.

On the previous Sunday Ajahn Manapo led the monthly Sunday School. He spoke to the children about the damage caused by anger, and of the importance of metta – loving-kindness. He also told them the story of Angulimala, before leading a meditation and answering questions.

This past week has seen a good amount of local school-related activity. On Tuesday Luangpor hosted Cheltenham Ladies’ College during their annual visit to the Hermitage. About 60 girls aged 14-15 spent two hours here, speaking to Luangpor in the shrine room before exploring the grounds.

On the same day Ajahn Manapo took an assembly at Telford Infant School in Leamington Spa. Today (Friday) he will visit Streetsbrooke Infant School in Solihull to speak to a class of Year 2 children before leading another assembly.

And just last Monday Ajahn Manapo attended a meeting of the Coventry SACRE. As the Buddhist representative he was charged with formulating a new Buddhist Programme of Study as part of the new RE Syllabus for schools in the Coventry area. Exciting stuff. (If there are any sympathetic teachers or ex-teachers out there who might have some tips, please get in touch.)

A week tomorrow Luangpor will be off up to Edinburgh (with Garth and Rob sharing the driving) to meet the Angulimala Scotland Prison Chaplains. Ajahn Manapo will be busy leading a weekend retreat at Bhavana Dhamma.

And finally, over the last few months we’ve seen an increase in people coming to offer food to the monks on weekdays. We’d like to say a particularly big thank you to Graham and Khun Noi, and Khun Pen and Khun Oi, who seem to have been present more often than not. Anumodana! (Well done!). For anyone interested in contributing to the morning meal, it is served at 11 am. Please contact us for more info.

News: Thursday 5th May, 2016

It’s May, which means one thing in the Buddhist world: Visakha Puja is just around the corner. This is when we celebrate the birth, Enlightenment and final passing of the Buddha. The actual day is Friday 20th, but we will celebrate on Sunday 22nd. The day’s events will begin at 10:30 am, and will conclude at about 1:30. All are welcome.

Last weekend was a busy one. Luangpor hosted an Angulimala Committee meeting on the Saturday. Certain big changes are taking place in the Prison Service Chaplaincy, and Luangpor and his team of Buddhist chaplains are working out how best to deal with them.

Ajahn Manapo led a bank holiday weekend retreat at Bhavana Dhamma. 10 people of varying nationalities and ages attended. Many thanks to Matthew Brayshaw and friends for providing food on the Saturday and Sunday, and to Kanlaya and Stephen Coulsting for cooking on the Monday. If anyone is interested in supporting these retreats please get in touch.

After a hiatus of several months, Khun Peter’s London group came up by coach on the Sunday. The weather was fine, piping hot Thai food was enjoyed by all, and people were well fed spiritually by taking the precepts, making offerings, meditating, and listening to Luangpor’s Dhamma Talk. About £1300 was donated to the Hermitage. Anumodana and well done to Khun Peter and Co.

Last week saw Luangpor and Ajahn Manapo returning to Warwick University after the Spring break for their weekly meetings, with Luangpor leading the Monday session and Ajahn Manapo the Thursday one. Please remember that these evenings are open to the public, too.

Ajahn Manapo will host another Sunday School class this weekend. It will begin at 12:30 pm and last for one hour. Children between 7 and 13 are most welcome. Classes include some chanting, a teaching, meditation and questions.

Next Tuesday Ajahn Manapo will be heading over to Banbury to see the Buddhist group, where he’ll lead a meditation and give a talk on the first of the Five Hindrances to meditation: sensual desire. The evening begins at 8 pm and will be held at the Friends Meeting House. All welcome.

As everybody knows, with Spring comes a long ‘to-do’ list. We’re currently in the process of giving everything a fresh lick of paint. Just yesterday the special Thai gold paint was cracked open and the walking Buddha image in the back garden, the sitting Buddha image in the main garden, and the top of the Pagoda were rejuvenated.

Speaking of the pagoda (which will be 28 this year), we would very much like to upgrade the four sitting places that are set slightly back from each side. At the moment each place comprises two (slightly submerged) concrete slabs. We have found some very attractive, though expensive, pieces of slate which would look great. We hope to be able to get them soon.

Calendar

Visakha Puja Celebration Sunday 22nd May, from 10:30 am. Please bring vegetarian food to offer and share.

Sunday School Held on the second Sunday of every month. Children aged between 7 and 13 welcome.

Meditation Evenings Mondays and Fridays, 8 – 9:30 pm. Includes chanting, guided meditation and talk. More info here.

Bhavana Dhamma Retreats Upcoming retreat dates: 27 – 29 May, 24 – 26 June, 6 – 12 August. Limited spaces. More info here.

Newsletter: Friday 20th November

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NL Nov

Happy Birthday

It’s now thirty years since this humble pair of old gamekeepers’ cottages began their transformation into Warwickshire’s first and only Buddhist monastery. Immediately after the Rains Retreat of 1985 Luangpor, accompanied by his dog, Toby, arrived here and set about establishing Wat Pah Santidhamma (the Peaceful Forest Monastery), better known as the Forest Hermitage.

Three decades later it would appear that not a great deal has changed. It’s still a small, unassuming place tucked away amid forest and fields, and Luangpor continues to have a trusty pooch at his side, only these days it’s Jimmy.

Now many of you know that, though the Hermitage is certainly quiet, and nicely secluded from the crowds, it is actually a little powerhouse of Buddhist activity. With Luangpor’s prison work (Angulimala is also thirty this year), Ajahn Manapo’s involvement with local schools, the twice weekly public sittings, monthly retreats, the Sunday school, the Warwick Uni Buddhist Group, and various other projects, the Forest Hermitage contributes much more than its small stature might indicate.

So thank you, Luangpor, for creating this place and enabling so many people to benefit from the Buddha’s Teachings. And thank you also to everybody who has supported him and all that goes on here along the way. May the Forest Hermitage and all it stands for continue to blossom in the Heart of England for many years to come!

Such a significant milestone couldn’t be passed without a good old birthday party. On the 1st November about 300 people gathered here to celebrate thirty years and to mark the end of this year’s Vassa (Rains Retreat). 300 is a record for us, and fortunately (or unfortunately, if you’re concerned about global warming) the weather was clear and mild. (Frozen festival-goers, it would seem, are a thing of the past.).

Khun Peter and Co. sponsored this year’s robe offering (we didn’t have a kathina as for this to happen you need to have had at least five monks in residence during the retreat). He also provided vast quantities of hot, vegetarian Thai cuisine. One coach came loaded with students from Warwick Uni, and another with supporters from London. Many other people arrived in cars, bearing dishes of food and bags of supplies for the monastery stores.

Dancing girls and Thai boxing were, as usual, not on the program, and instead everyone was treated to the tried and tested practices of virtue (taking the five precepts), generosity (offering food to the monks), and mental development (meditating and listening to Dhamma talks).

Waiting to offer food to the Sangha
.

As is tradition in our family of forest monasteries at this time of year, each Sangha member was invited to give a Dhamma talk. Luangpor reminded us that the conclusion of the Vassa is a time to focus on the importance of the Sangha – the order of monks and nuns. He then moved on to talk about external vs. internal cleanliness; most of us, he said, might be clean on the outside, but inside is often a different matter, what with all the greed, anger and delusion swirling around. The Dhamma, he pointed out, is aimed precisely at cleaning up this inner mess.

Ajahn Manapo recounted a favourite sutta where the Buddha compares the relative merits of giving, keeping the precepts, developing loving-kindness, and gaining deep insight into impermanence. The latter, the Buddha said, surpasses all. Ajahn Manapo finished with a little story which illustrated how the contemplation of our own impermanence (i.e. the fact that we will die) puts everything in perspective.

And then we held our collective breath as Sister Bodhi, our newly ordained Italian nun, took the mic and gave her First Ever Dhamma Talk. If she hadn’t admitted in her opening sentence that she was terrified you would never have known. But she quite rightly went on to point out that it was her practice to attempt to observe and understand this state of mind, and not be swallowed up by it.

All in all it was a very successful day. To commemorate the occasion we gave away our 2016 calendar as well as a small postcard with the two photos of Luangpor plus pooches, past and present. If you’d like copies yourself we can send them to you, or you can pick them up when you’re next here.

Just last Sunday Luangpor journeyed down to Amaravati, near Hemel Hempstead, for their Royal Kathina. As a Chao Khun he was asked by Ajahn Amaro (pictured with Luangpor in the left-hand picture below) to offer the blessing to the King of Thailand. Afterwards he gave a Dhamma talk in the large meeting hall, using the opportunity to speak to the lay people of the importance of supporting the Sangha. He also touched on both the recent attacks in Paris and the Coventry bombings of 75 years ago, saying that the Buddhist response to violence should be rooted in reconciliation and loving-kindness. 

Luangpor at Amaravati, and Ajahn Manapo visiting Alcester Primary School last month
 .

With Autumn comes a new academic year at Warwick University. During the summer Luangpor agreed to the Buddhist Society’s request to hold an extra weekly session, and so as well as the long-standing Monday meetings, students can now attend the new Thursday session, which is led by Ajahn Manapo. So far both nights have been well attended, with numbers generally ranging from between twenty and forty students. Please remember that these evenings are not only for students but are open to all. They take place every Monday and Thursday, from 6:30 – 8 pm.

This weekend Ajahn Manapo will be at Bhavana Dhamma leading a retreat, the penultimate one of the year. The Kumarasinges have very kindly offered to cook and serve the food. And on Saturday the 28th Luangpor will welcome Buddhist prison chaplains from across the country for Angulimala’s last workshop of 2015.