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.

Newsletter: Wednesday 27th June, 2018

Today is the full moon day, which means we have one month left before we enter this year’s Rains Retreat. On the subject of rain, it’s been several weeks since we’ve seen the wet stuff and everything is looking very thirsty. Even some of our giant rainwater butts are almost empty. On the plus side, because the grass has stopped growing and we’re not having to cut it, it’s giving all of the buttercups, daisies, clover and the like a chance to flourish.

On Monday evening Luangpor led the final Warwick University Buddhist Society meeting of this academic year. This year’s group has been a good one, with attendance regularly reaching 30 – 40 students. Luangpor has also been pleased with how well they’ve been sitting – barely moving a muscle for the duration of the sessions. Meetings will begin again in October and, as usual, they will be open to all.

Last night Ajahn Manapo hosted the 1st Stockton Scout Group, who are working on their World Faith Challenge Badge. They were quite an inquisitive bunch, asking lots of questions about Buddhism and the life of a monk. Thankfully they were also good meditators, sitting for almost ten minutes without too much wriggling. This Friday afternoon Ajahn Manapo will welcome a class of Year 2s from High Meadow Infant School in Coleshill.

If you have visited the Hermitage in the last 30+ years you will know Maureen. Since the late Eighties she has been a pillar of support here, and it was in part thanks to her generosity that we were able to purchase Wood Cottage exactly 15 years ago. Well, on Saturday she will turn 88, and we’re expecting a small crowd armed with plenty of cake to wish her well.

On Sunday morning Luangpor will go to London for a meal offering hosted by Khun Peter. After that he’ll be visiting an old Cambodian supporter who has recently moved to a nursing home, also in London. Then it’ll be a quick drive back up the M40 in time for the BDF and FHT committee meetings. The FHT (Forest Hermitage Trust) is in the process of being set up and, once established, will replace the BDF (Buddha Dhamma Fellowship) as the body which administers the Hermitage’s financial and material needs. If you’re interested in getting more involved and joining the committee, we’d love to hear from you.

Newsletter: Wednesday 20th June, 2018

Luangpor returned safely from Thailand on Monday evening, having attended the annual meeting at Wat Pah Pong and to celebrate what would have been Ajahn Chah’s 100th birthday on the 17th June. Over 600 monks were present at the meeting – most of them from branch monasteries in Thailand, with a handful from the UK, Australia and elsewhere.

On the morning of the 17th, Luangpor, along with Ven. Ajahn Amaro – who had also travelled from England – and a contingent of monks from Wat Pah Nanachat visited the newly erected pillar at Ajahn Chah’s birthplace in Bahn Gor village. The pillar is in the style of the Ashokan columns of India, and is made from a giant piece of sandstone which weighed 100 tons before it was carved. Hopefully it will be around for many centuries to come…

The photo below shows a wooden carving of Ajahn Chah that Luangpor was given while he was in Thailand. It is one of a hundred that were cut from one of the giant mango trees under which Ajahn Chah first camped when he arrived in the forest that later became Wat Pah Pong but which was blown over in the wind last year. It is now hanging on the wall in the conservatory here. 

Ajahn Manapo, Matt and Ross looked after things in Luangpor’s absence. On Friday Ajahn Manapo led the public sitting, which included a Dhamma talk on the meaning behind the Buddha image and the increasing need to protect how it is used. On Sunday he led the monthly Sunday school class, talking to the children about the 5 precepts and in particular their counterparts: caring for living things and being generous and truthful. On Monday he filled in for Luangpor at Warwick University, guiding the meditation sitting and giving a talk.

We had a number of male and female guests staying to help over the weekend, and they all got stuck in with helping to paint the fencing at Bhavana Dhamma and the inside of the new back porch roof at the Hermitage.