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.

Newsletter: Saturday 25th August, 2018

“Monks, all is burning. And what is the all that is burning?

“The eye is burning, forms are burning…
“The ear is burning, sounds are burning…
“The nose is burning, odours are burning…
“The tongue is burning, flavours are burning…
“The body is burning, tangibles are burning…
“The mind is burning, ideas are burning…

Burning with what? Burning with the fire of lust, with the fire of hate, with the fire of delusion. I say [they are] burning with birth, aging and death, with sorrows, with lamentations, with pains, with griefs, with despairs.”

So begins the Buddha’s ‘Fire Sermon‘, one of the three so-called Cardinal Discourses of the Buddha, which Luangpor read just last night during the Friday evening public sitting. Each Friday during this rains retreat he is reading from the Pali Canon. Last week it was the Anatta-lakkhana Sutta – the Discourse on Not-self, and before that it was the First Sermon. If you want to hear some real Dhamma – that is, words from the Buddha himself – please do come along.

At Wat Buddhapadipa – with the Abbot and Luangpor in the centre

A little over three weeks ago, Luangpor and Ajahn Manapo joined a gathering of Thai monks at Wat Buddhapadipa – the large Thai temple in Wimbledon, London. They were there to pay their respects and ask forgiveness of the Abbot, who, at 92 years old, is the most senior Theravada monk in the country. Following that, all of the remaining monks did the same for Luangpor, who was the second-most senior monk present; and so the process was repeated for several other elder monks.

The asking of forgiveness is an important and long-standing tradition that helps to promote communal harmony, respect, and humility – all essential ingredients on the Buddha’s path to Enlightenment.

On the following Wednesday, Luangpor travelled to the Oxford Buddhist Vihara for the second TBSUK meeting of the year. Theravada monks from a number of Thai, Sri Lankan and Burmese monasteries throughout the UK joined the event to discuss certain important issues, one of which was the relationship with other religions – particularly Islam. Concern was also raised by some of the Burmese in attendance about misrepresentation in the media of certain facts relating to the problems in western Burma.

The TBSUK meeting in Oxford

On the afternoon of Saturday 11th, nine intrepid retreatants descended on Bhavana Dhamma for the six-day summer retreat. Ajahn Manapo led them through it, giving regular guidance and instruction as well as a series of evening Dhamma talks focused on cultivating the Four Protections: Mindfulness of the Buddha; Loving-Kindness; Contemplation of the Body; and Mindfulness of Death.

They were an excellent group and, as far as we know, managed to restrain themselves when doing walking meditation next to the blackberry bushes. Many thanks to Chamila, Anne and the various people who so kindly offered food and helped to run the retreat.

Judging by the number of applications, the popularity of the retreats seems to be increasing; however, the size of the place is not, and we’re unhappy about having to put so many people on the waiting list. Various possible solutions have presented themselves: from extending the shrine room, to converting the garage, to acquiring a bit more land. We will have to see…

The 6-Day retreat at Bhavana Dhamma

On the following Monday, the 13th, Ajahn Amaro and a group of monks from Amaravati came to pay their respects to Luangpor. After spending some time in the shrine room and having a look around the grounds, they walked over to Bhavana Dhamma, where the retreat was in progress.

On Saturday 18th Luangpor made another long journey: this time northward, to a recently established Thai temple just outside Manchester. He was there to participate in the annual meeting of the Council of Thai Buddhist Monks, the purpose of which is to discuss the propagation of Dhamma abroad (that is, outside of Thailand). As part of the event Luangpor gave a short presentation to the monks, during which he focussed on three things in particular:

Firstly, he said that from his experience with Angulimala and TBSUK he has realised the importance of being united, and of how it enables us to accomplish more.

Secondly, he reminded the monks about the importance of becoming integrated into the country in which they are living, and to make efforts to learn its language and customs.

And thirdly, he asked the monks to encourage the Buddhist lay-community in their observation of the precepts – particularly the fifth. Regarding that fifth precept (abstaining from using alcohol and non-medicinal drugs), he spoke of his experience of working in the prisons, where he frequently observes the harm and devastation wrought by these substances. He even suggested that the Theravada Sangha might lead some kind of campaign to get people to take this fifth precept more seriously.

Luangpor at the Council of Thai Buddhist Monks meeting

Apart from all of that, we are one month into the Vassa. The back porch is almost, almost finished. After that Andy the builder will hopefully be moving on to Luangpor’s kuti, which desperately needs underpinning (it’s subsiding) and insulating (it’s freezing). And next weekend we’ll be hosting the penultimate Angulimala workshop of the year.

And finally, if you’re shopping on Amazon, you might like to try Amazon Smile and consider selecting the Forest Hermitage Trust as your chosen charity.

Newsletter: Wednesday 1st August, 2018

Circumambulating around Bhavana Dhamma

Despite our most earnest pleas, the rain that has been absent for six weeks could not wait for another day, and the morning of our Asalha Puja and Entry to the Vassa celebration dawned mighty wet and windy. The new marquee just about withstood the gales (though extra guy ropes had to be fixed as the festival went on inside), but our food tents weren’t so lucky – falling victim to some wild gusts a couple of hours before festival-goers arrived – and so we had to make some last minute adjustments to the plan and set up the food tables in the garage.

Apart from all that, we had a very successful day, with the rain holding off as we did our circumambulation around Bhavana Dhamma, and we’re grateful to everyone for their help, kindness and tremendous generosity. Anumodana!

A wet and wild Asalha Puja

As you can see from a couple of the photos above, the Forest Hermitage Sangha has a new member. Anagarika Ross, who has been with us for just over a year, requested the Going Forth as a samanera (novice monk) last Friday, on Asalha Puja itself. He was accepted into the fold and given the name Cittapemo.

This special event reminds us that Asalha Puja is not just a celebration of the Buddha’s First Discourse, but also of the establishment of the Sangha – the order of monks and nuns – as it was on that occasion when Kondanna went forth as the first Buddhist monk.

Luangpor, Ajahn Manapo and Samanera Cittapemo

Two weeks ago, on the 17th July, Luangpor celebrated his 74th birthday. On the Monday we went to Khun Ting’s restaurant in Nottingham for a meal invitation. Luangpor led a blessing before receiving food and giving a short Dhamma talk. And, on the day itself, a small crowd of close supporters came to offer the meal and wish him well. A lot of time and effort had obviously been taken to produce a number of magnificent birthday cakes, as you can see…

Luangpor is a lover of tortoises – both inanimate and real…

Ajahn Manapo led the retreat at Bhavana Dhamma on the weekend before last. Thank you to everyone who supported it, especially Benyapa, Kanlaya, Khun Ting, Lassanta and Sarah. The August six-day retreat will begin on the 11th, and if anyone would like to help clean and tidy the Bhavana Dhamma house and garden towards the end of next week, please let us know.

Regarding cancellations, if you have a place on a retreat and need to cancel, please give us as much notice as possible so that the space can be offered to someone else. Unfortunately we had six cancellations before the last retreat and because most of them were very last minute we weren’t able to fill the spaces. We realise that sometimes this can’t be helped, but please bear it in mind. Spaces are few and therefore precious!

The July weekend retreat

Tomorrow, Luangpor, accompanied by Ajahn Manapo, will be off to Wat Buddhapadipa in Wimbledon to pay his respects to the Abbot, who is the most senior Theravada monk in the country. It’ll be a brief visit as Luangpor needs to be in Ryehill prison, on the outskirts of Rugby, by the early evening.

We are still looking for a long-term volunteer driver for Luangpor to take him on his prison visits, so please do contact us if you, or anyone else that you know, are interested.

Newsletter: Sunday 15th July, 2018

The pagoda garden, on yet another scorching afternoon

Asalha Puja and the Beginning of the Rains Retreat are fast approaching. The former will take place on Friday 27th, the latter on the 28th, and we will hold our public celebration of both on Sunday 29th. As with our Vesakha Puja event, we will be hosting it over at Bhavana Dhamma, where there is ample parking and no chance of disturbing the neighbours. A new, 12m x 9m heavy duty marquee is in the post, and we’re looking forward to using it as the main meeting hall/shrine room. A few pairs of hands will be needed to erect it, so if you’re free on the afternoon of Saturday 28th, please come along if you can. The festival itself will begin at 10 am on the Sunday.

Setting aside the complicated business of getting there, Luangpor spent a pleasant few days among the fjords of western Norway last weekend. He led a group of monks in opening Luangpor Kampong’s new monastery in Grimo, Norderland. Apart from spending time at the monastery itself, Luangpor was treated to a couple of tours to admire the spectacular local scenery, the first of which included spotting a giant glacier carving its way through the mountains (visible in the photo above, centre right).

On Thursday afternoon Luangpor had a visit from Mike Kavanagh, the Chaplain General of the Prison Service, and Michelle, who for many years has been a mainstay and enormous help and support at Prison Service Chaplaincy HQ. They will both be retiring within the next few weeks. Crane and Jan organised two traditional Thai gifts to be sent from Thailand, and they arrived just in time for Luangpor to present them to Mike and Michelle.

On the following evening, during the public meditation sitting, Luangpor spoke about how the practices of Samatha and Vipassana – concentration and insight – ought not to seen as separate, but rather as two sides of the same coin; and he reminded us of those well-known words of the Buddha: ‘There is no concentration without wisdom, nor wisdom without concentration…’

To conclude a full week, Luangpor visited Hartridge monastery in Devon today (Sunday), where he presided over a robe offering ceremony that included a huge and generous donation towards their new Dhamma hall. And he was also treated to a few surprise early birthday cakes…

At Hartridge Monastery

While Luangpor was away in Norway, Ajahn Manapo led the previous week’s Friday evening sitting (above). His talk focussed on the events following the Buddha’s Enlightenment and leading up to his meeting with the Five Ascetics, when he taught what we now know as the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta – Setting Rolling the Wheel of Truth, during which he laid out his essential message: the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.

On Tuesday, Ajahn Manapo will be off to Southam College, where a conference entitled ‘The Big Question’, and which will involve several schools, will take place. Then that should be it for school visits until September.

Tomorrow morning, Luangpor, Ajahn Manapo and Ross will travel to Khun Ting’s Thai restaurant in Nottingham for a meal invitation. Khun Ting has been a great supporter of the Hermitage for a long time, and for the past few years has invited us all up there to celebrate not only her birthday, which is on the 16th, but also Luangpor’s, which falls on the 17th. You might be surprised to hear that it will be Luangpor’s 74th. Let’s hope he remains as fit, active and bright for many years to come.

Thursday, Friday and Saturday were a blur of activity as Andy, assisted by Ajahn Manapo, Ross, Matt and Lot, stripped and re-roofed the back porch. It’s now pretty much complete on the outside, and so only the refitting of the inside and cladding of the external walls remain to be done.

Newsletter: Thursday 5th July, 2018

On Monday afternoon we hosted two coach-loads of GCSE students from Cheltenham Ladies’ College. It’s become a tradition for them to visit every year, and, unfortunately, it’s almost as traditional for it to rain while they’re here. Thankfully, this year we were blessed with a fine day and so the group of over 60 girls was able to divide into two: one group with Luangpor in the shrine room, and the other with Ajahn Manapo in the shade of the weeping willow in the back garden.

Their RE course focuses almost exclusively on Christianity and Buddhism, and so, already possessing a good grasp of the fundamentals, they spent most of their time asking questions. After that they sat in meditation for a few minutes before looking around.

Left: Ready for the Ladies…
Right: Maureen receiving her homemade birthday cake from Wassana. She turned eighty-eight last Saturday.

With these precious long, warm evenings upon us we are holding some of the public meditation sessions outside. On Monday evening Ajahn Manapo led the sitting in the pagoda garden, to the accompaniment of rustling leaves, cooing pigeons and the occasional hoot of an owl. His Dhamma talk focused on craving and on how it is overcome by seeing things as they are. Let’s hope tomorrow (Friday) is as fair, so that we can sit outside again.

After a week of prison visits, which included Gartree and Stocken in Leicestershire and Rutland, Long Lartin in Gloucestershire, and Ryehill in Warwickshire, Luangpor will be off to Scandinavia this weekend. Ajahn Kampong, who stayed at the Hermitage for a few days last September, is in the process of setting up a monastery on the west coast of Norway and has invited Luangpor and other monks to attend the opening ceremony which will take place on Sunday. Luangpor will be leaving the Hermitage tomorrow morning and returning on Monday evening. It won’t be his first time in Norway – he was last there in 1963, when hitchhiking as a student.

At midday on Sunday Ajahn Manapo will be holding the monthly Sunday School class, and then in the afternoon we’ll be welcoming the Songkarn Chant School, which will be at the end of a whistle-stop day tour visiting nine Thai monasteries throughout the UK.

Apart from that, work on the back porch continues apace; and, after a brief hiatus, the rather laborious task of stripping the paint off the house’s brickwork has begun again (if you’re free this weekend, you’re welcome to lend a hand). We hope to see it all finished in time for the beginning of the Rains Retreat at the end of the month. Famous last words…

Bhavana Dhamma Retreats Update
The retreat taking place on the weekend of the 20th – 22nd July is full, but it’s worth joining the waiting list if you’re interested. There is one space available for a man on the 11th – 17th August 6-day retreat, and booking for the 14th – 16th September retreat will open next week. The retreats generally fill up very quickly, so don’t delay if you’d like to attend one.