Author Archives: Luangpor

About Luangpor

Born July 17th, 1944. England. Buddhist monk - ordained samanera December 26th, 1971; ordained bhikkhu May 26th, 1972. Made an OBE in HM The Queen's Birthday Honours 2003. Made a Chao Khun on HM The King of Thailand's Birthday, December 5th, 2004. Abbot of The Forest Hermitage since 1985. Spiritual Director of Angulimala, the Buddhist Prison Chaplaincy. Buddhist Adviser to HM Prison Service & NOMS. Buddhist Chaplain to Warwick University.

Newsletter: Friday 9th October

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Two Saturdays ago Luangpor paid a visit to the The Orchard, a charming retreat centre situated just this side of the Welsh border in Herefordshire. Eighteen people gathered there for a day retreat, and he was invited to join them for the latter half, leading a short meditation, giving a Dhamma Talk, and answering questions. It was a very pleasant afternoon. Many thanks to Ad for organising it.
Last Saturday we made room for the large and devoted Win family, who came to remember the late U Nay Win and make offerings. Mr Win had been a very great supporter of this place since the early days, and Luangpor has many a vivid memory of him, particularly from the time when the pagoda was being built almost three decades ago.

After the meal Luangpor gave the Wins a Dhamma talk, speaking among other things of the need to support one another as we navigate these unforgiving seas of birth, suffering, ageing and death. And as a number of medical doctors were present, Luangpor took the opportunity to remind them that, just like medicine, the Dhamma should be taken and used, not just placed on a shelf and revered.

On the Sunday Khun Peter and a coach of 70 Thais came for their monthly gathering. It was the usual happy mix of precept taking, giving, eating, meditation and Dhamma Talks. The weather was fortunately excellent, and so we were able to do an alms-round outside. Please remember that these events are open to all.

Khun Peter is sponsoring next month’s robe offering ceremony which marks the end of the Rains Retreat. This will take place on Sunday 1st November, from 10 am.

On the full moon day marking the passing of the second month of the Rains Retreat, Luangpor read ‘Understanding Vinaya‘ from a book of Ajahn Chah’s teachings. It contains a classic mix of straight talking, practical and sometimes humourous instruction given to monks and novices. In part of it Ajahn Chah recounts his own early experience of progressing from information overload as a result of too much studying, to a simpler, more direct approach to practice. And he also speaks about overcoming the hindrance of doubt – not by shunning it or fighting it, but by observing and investigating it so that one can understand its nature.
Last week Ajahn Manapo took another school assembly, this time at St. Gregory’s RC Primary School in Stratford. The formula of these assemblies is usually much the same, but the responses from the children are certainly not. During the Q & A section at the end, Ajahn Manapo spoke about the monks’ rules, including the one about not using money. ‘If you’re not allowed money, where do you get your food from?’ asked one little boy. ‘People give us our food,’ Ajahn Manapo replied, before adding: ‘And do you know what we give in return? Have I given you anything today?’ Without hesitating, the young boy replied: ‘You’ve given us happiness.’
Inspired by this response, in his Dhamma talk on the following Monday, Ajahn Manapo spoke about the reciprocal nature of the relationship between the Sangha and the laity, which is based on an Economy of Gifts, as Ajahn Thanissaro puts it. Recalling the Sangha’s role as the nurse that helps administer the medicine of Dhamma, Ajahn Manapo reminded everyone of the Buddha’s famous injunction to his first 60 enlightened monks, telling them each to wander forth to teach the Dhamma, no two in the same direction: ‘Go now, monks, for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world.’
We’ve finally got round to re-using some of the old kitchen units from the recently refurbished Wood Cottage kitchen. As you can see from the photo, we now have a much-improved office area in the back porch and lots of cupboards to lose things in…
We have also had a new gas heater installed in the small shrine room, and the electric Aga has been woken from its summer hibernation. The Aga – which someone very kindly donated last year – is charged during the night on the Economy 7 tariff, and works out quite a bit less expensive to run than our old oil-fired Aga.
Buddhist monasteries are often refuges not only for suffering humans, but animals, too, and this one is no different. Adding to our menagerie of rescue dogs, cats, a tortoise and a cockerel, we now have a couple of ferrets. They’re young, healthy and tame – and so have most likely been dumped. They found their way here and it looks as though they’d quite like to stay.
And finally, if there are any friendly lawyers or solicitors out there who would be willing to give us advice concerning various matters (for instance, we are considering changing the status of our charity in order to switch banks), we’d be very grateful if you got in touch.


Newsletter, Tuesday 22nd September

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Springhill Buddha Grove

The recent unusual spell of mild, clear weather thankfully held on until yesterday morning, meaning that Sunday’s annual Buddha Grove celebration at Springhill Prison went smoothly. Ajahn Amaro and three other monks from Amaravati joined us, as did four monks from Wat Santiwongsaram in Birmingham and two monks from the temple in Oxford. We began the evening with a short puja in front of the prison shrine (pictured below), before hearing speeches from governors past and present, a transformed ex-inmate called Tom, and finally Luangpor.

Luangpor told the story of how this unique space came to be, and reminded us of Sam Cutler’s wish for it to provide a ‘Buddha Field’ of wholesome energy that might affect the whole prison for the better. Incidentally, Sam, who was the brain of the operation, was the former road-manager for the Rolling Stones

Khun Peter and co. took over the prison kitchen for the afternoon and ensured that inmates, staff and guests (excluding the monks, of course) had their bellies filled with warm, tantalising Thai grub. After that we all made our way back outside for the candlelit procession around the grove. To cap it off, presentations were made to deserving recipients. Sadly, Lord Avebury, who has been a stalwart of these events since the beginning, was not able to be there because of ill-health.

Visiting Monks

Yesterday Ajahn Amaro and a contingent of monks from Amaravati came to formally pay their respects to Luangpor. It’s custom in our tradition for groups of monks to visit the elders of the Sangha during the Rains Retreat to ‘ask for forgiveness’. It’s not that we tend to upset each other very often; this ceremony is simply a way to promote harmony, concord and good-will between us all.
After spending some time in the shrine room at the Hermitage, we walked around the grounds and then headed over to Bhavana Dhamma, where Maureen and Sister Bodhi – our new 8-precept nun – brewed up some tea. All in all it was a very pleasant afternoon.

In addition to his usual round of prison visits during the last two weeks, Luangpor ventured a little further afield to HMP Usk in South Wales. He also had a couple of engagements in London, one of which concerned recording some suttas for an audio book.

Doing things a little differently in his recent Dhamma talks, Luangpor has taken to reading a text from the Pali Canon before commenting on it. Just the other day he narrated the account of the Buddha advising Rahula on the importance of not lying. The Buddha demonstrates his point with the vivid analogy of the water pitcher and eventually states that a person who feels no shame when telling a deliberate lie is not only empty of virtue but incapable of developing it.

Ajahn Manapo’s week included visiting the Banbury Buddhist Group to lead a meditation and give a talk. As their current theme is concerned with deepening the practice, he spoke about the importance of determination and how best to go about cultivating it.
On Thursday he paid a visit to Lillington Primary School, which lies on the outskirts of Leamington, to hold a short assembly. Time was limited but he managed to give the children a brief outline of the Buddha’s life before moving on to speak about the three classes of good actions: giving, morality and meditation (dana, sila, bhavana). After that he led the c. 250 kids in a guided meditation, which, judging by their responses (‘I feel happy! Refreshed! Relaxed!, etc.), was a great success.
And the Sunday before that he also hosted our first Sunday School Class in many years. The next one will take place on 11th October at 12:30 pm.

Over the weekend we had a group staying at Bhavana Dhamma for the monthly weekend retreat. Many thanks to Benyapa for cooking, and to Simret for providing some lovely dishes. Ajahn Manapo’s talks were centred upon loving-kindness, and particularly on the need to develop it for that person who needs it most: oneself.

(Walking meditation at Bhavana Dhamma)


Other Stuff
During a routine inspection of our various gas appliances we found that the shrine room heaters have developed a problem. Regular Monday and Friday evening meditators will have no doubt experienced the popping sounds emitted from the heaters when they are on (which you may say is not often enough!). Well, it seems the steel of the main heat exchangers has begun to split, and so these parts need replacing before we can use them again. And unfortunately just today we discovered that the same has also happened to Luangpor’s kuti heater. John, our friendly local gas engineer, is on the case.

Newsletter, 7th September, 2015

One Month Down…

It’s been quite a busy start to the annual three month Rains Retreat. Two weekends ago Luangpor led an Angulimala Workshop. There was a good turn out, with Prison Chaplains from the major Buddhist traditions coming from all corners of the country to meet, discuss prison matters, and collect supplies. In the week prior to that Luangpor paid one of his regular visits to the Isle of Wight prisons, teaching the inmates and providing them with books, meditation beads and Buddha images.

As for Luangpor’s search for a new driver, we have good news: Douglas has very kindly offered his services and will be starting this week. He will be staying with us three nights of the week and driving Luangpor on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
In mid-August Luangpor chaired a TBSUK meeting at the Thai Temple in King’s Bromley. Theravada monks from many temples in England, including Amaravati and Wat Santiwongsaram, met to discuss Sangha matters. One important thing worth noting is that TBSUK is in the process of compiling a formal database of all fully-ordained Theravada monks in the UK.
A new kuti has just been erected at Bhavana Dhamma. It will provide us with more accommodation for the retreats, and give the residents a little more simplicity and space when they need it. We built it from scratch with the help of Andy; and many others who happened to be staying lent a hand painting, cutting and nailing.

Just before the Rains Retreat began, Ajahn Manapo spent 8 days walking around the Peak District on tudong – meaning he carried neither food nor money – relying solely on people’s generosity. He survived to tell the tale, and reported that it had been an inspiring, if thoroughly challenging, experience.

Bhavana Dhamma Retreats

The monthly retreats at Bhavana Dhamma are going very well. A group of nine intrepid meditators were led by Ajahn Manapo on a 7 day retreat in mid-August. It was a very international gathering, with Thailand, China, Spain and Scotland represented. There was even a smattering of English people, too. Periods of walking and sitting meditation dominated the daily routine and noble silence was maintained throughout. Ajahn Manapo gave a Dhamma talk every morning and evening – the morning talks focussing on practical aspects of meditation and mindfulness, and the evening talks on cultivating the Ten Perfections.

The dates for the upcoming retreats are as follows:
18 – 20 September
23 – 25 October
20 – 22 November
29 December – 2 January 2016

The September retreat is full, but there are still spaces available on the others. You can find out more here.

Retreat Help Needed

The retreats are made possible through the generosity of many people, not least those who come in and cook. We’re very grateful to Aung and Aye, Sarah, Trish, Kanlaya, and Anne for providing the food during the last retreat.

If you think you might be able to help cook for a retreat, or bring in some food to contribute, please get in touch. As only one meal a day is served there are just two meals to provide on a weekend retreat (Saturday and Sunday), both at 11 am. We have plenty of food here, including rice, curries, vegetables, Quorn products, bread, sweets, etc. which can be used.

Please email us or call 01926 624564 if you’d like to help.

Buddhist Sunday School

We’re pleased to announce a new addition to our calendar: a monthly Buddhist Sunday School. We have a core group of keen Sri Lankans who requested that we start one, and so that’s just what we going to do! As for the age range, no younger than 6 or older than 16 is what we recommend, though that’s just a rough guide. Ajahn Manapo will lead them, and as he has 13 years worth of experience teaching school children of all ages about Buddhism we think the classes will be worthwhile.

Children of all nationalities are welcome, and no prior experience or knowledge of Buddhism is required. Classes will last for about an hour, during which time Ajahn Manapo will talk about a particular topic, answer questions, and lead a meditation sitting. If the weather’s good they’ll look at the grounds, too.

The first Sunday School class will take place on Sunday 13th September(this weekend), beginning at 12:30 pm. We will then hold one a month. Dates to follow.

Damsons in Distress

Yes, we have many damsons about to fall to the earth. We also have bushes chock full of blackberries and trees laden with plums and apples. If you would like to come early to a sitting, or at another time, to pick some, please do. You could use the fruit to make crumbles, jams, etc. for the monastery, as well as keeping some for yourself.

News, 19th December, 2014

If you happened to have clicked onto the home page of the Huffington Post on the afternoon of Tuesday 25 November, and you weren’t prepared to see a huge photo of Luang Por dominating the headlines, you would probably have had quite a shock. No – he didn’t scoop the EuroMillions jackpot. ‘From the Stage to Sage’ ran the headline, and beneath that was a photo of him perched on his seat in our conservatory, surrounded by the familiar assemblage of model tortoises, skeletons, money trees and Buddha images.

So what, you might ask, was he doing there?

Well, several weeks ago he was approached by a young journalist called Louise who was keen to pen an article on his life-story. It was to be part of their ‘Beyond Belief’ series which chronicles the lives of British people who have used their religious and spiritual paths to create, as they put it, a force for change, She was particularly interested in his prison work and was also curious about his transformation from actor at the National Theatre to penniless Buddhist monk.

So a date was set and she eventually arrived complete with Biro, notepad, and Dictaphone. During those two hours they covered everything from Luang Por’s conventional Christian upbringing, to his part in a London drama school revolution, to turning down Laurence Olivier’s home-made punch, to travelling overland to Thailand and eventually ordaining with Ajahn Chah. And of course there was his prison work to discuss. Two hours later, and after taking several photographs with her phone, she gathered her things, called a taxi, and was off.

The following week she contacted us to say that the article was online. We logged on and – low and behold – it was headline news! But there you have it: from the stage to sage to the front page. You can read it here.

LokaOn the 10th November we were fortunate to receive a visit from Venerable Lokanata, a Burmese monk who once lived here but who hasn’t been back for almost 25 years. Some of our older supporters will no doubt remember him, and those who met him for the first time the other day will certainly not forget him. Lokanata’s warmth and cheerfulness were captivating, as was his humility: even though he is now very senior, he instinctively fell into attending to Luang Por – carrying his bag out to the car as Luang Por left for a prison, and so on. It was inspiring to see. It’s taken Lokanata so long to return because he’s been staying at various monasteries around the globe, including ones in Texas and, would you believe it, Jamaica. Then, about two years ago, he was invited to London and he’s been staying there in a Burmese temple ever since. We hope it won’t be another 25 years before we see him again.

On Sunday 7 December Khun Peter’s London group came up by coach. As you are hopefully aware, Luang Por’s visits to the restaurant in London have stopped and instead they are coming here on the first Sunday of every month – unless there is a festival close to that time, in which case they’ll come to that instead. Khun Peter has retired from the restaurant business and now intends to devote much of his time to the study and practise of the Dhamma. These monthly visits, which have become a bit of an institution, are all down to him, and we are so grateful for his generosity and dedication to this place and to the Dhamma. I should point out that these occasions are open to all.

That day, after everyone had taken the precepts, offered food to us monks, and then eaten, we all gathered in the shrine room for offerings and a Dhamma talk from Luang Por. He began by saying that even though humans may be of different nationalities, and speak different languages and observe different customs, we all have one thing in common, and that is suffering. We are all born, we age, get sick and die. We all suffer from the poisons of greed, aversion and delusion. And the Buddha’s teachings are here to address just this problem. The Dhamma does not focus on things that we cannot know. It does not instruct us to dwell on things for which there is no proof. It calls upon us to look carefully at our experiences: our greed and our aversion, and to understand why they arise. If we can do this then we will move that little bit closer to letting them go.

Luang Por and the London Group

Luang Por concluded by talking about his commitment to maintaining this little beacon of truth and virtue that is the Forest Hermitage. Just before he left for Thailand in 1971 one of Luang Por’s teachers at the time, Kapilavaddho of the Hampstead Vihara, told him that he must one day return to the UK. Others who had gone to ordain would stay in Thailand, Kapilavaddho had reckoned, but Luang Por was to return. And so, considering how much he had benefited from those pioneers who strove to make Buddhism available in this country and wanting to give something back, he did.

Now it’s easy to start a place like this, Luang Por said, as to begin with there’s a mass of enthusiasm and everyone’s eager to help: a bit of painting here or a spot of cooking there; but as time goes on keeping a monastery going proves to be rather more difficult, especially in this country where few people are Buddhist. But keep going we must, and Luang Por expressed his appreciation for the support and generosity given by so many people that enables us to provide this refuge where the Buddha’s Teachings can be taught and practised.

bukTwo weeks ago we hosted the last quarterly Angulimala workshop of the year. It’s usually the least well attended meeting of the four, but this one saw a good turnout, partly because Luang Por had managed to secure a visit from Helen Dearnley, an advisor for Prison Service Chaplaincy Headquarters. It’s her job to go around the prisons ensuring that the Chaplaincies are doing as they should, and she spoke a little about her experience doing this before fielding questions. Another draw was the 2015 Angulimala Calendar, 1,000 of which had just arrived fresh from the printers (and we’ve just ordered another 500). Most of these were taken on the day, and the rest have been collected by individual chaplains or sent to them in the post.

On the subject of calendars, if you would like a Forest Hermitage one, please let us know and we will send you a copy. Alternatively, we will be happy to give you one when you are next here.

During November Ajahn Manapo was kept busy visiting schools. It’s not usual for him to risk his neck in the unforgiving hallways of secondary schools, but a few months ago he was asked if he might lead an assembly each day for a week at Henley in Arden High School. So, it was with a little trepidation that he accepted the offer, and on a drizzly Monday afternoon in mid-November he went along. But he needn’t have donned his bullet-proof robe as the week turned out to be a great success.

He spoke to a different year each day, beginning with the oldest group: 150 16 year olds. As it was likely that this group would be most interested in his reasons for becoming a monk, he based his brief talk on that. Afterwards he led them in a short meditation (which went surprisingly well), and took questions (which were fairly sensible apart from the first: ‘Can you float?’ ‘No’ was the answer to that). The whole thing lasted about twenty minutes. Walking away from that first assembly he wasn’t sure how successful it had been, but his doubts proved to be unfounded when on the following day the teacher reported to him how well it had been received. Many children were now questioning their own values, she had said, and one girl had even expressed her interest in becoming a nun! We’ll be having concerned parents on the phone soon!

In one of his recent talks to the Banbury Buddhist Group, Ajahn Manapo delved into the term mindfulness, and in particular how it is defined in Buddhist teaching, a matter which is of great importance as its now widespread usage is draining the word of its original meaning. As Buddhism has come West we have quite rightly translated most of the key Buddhist terms into English. But there are some which we feel should sometimes be left in the Pali because we have no adequate English alternative. An example of this would be dukkha (often rendered as suffering, unsatisfactoriness, stress, etc.); all Buddhists are familiar with this term, and by using the original we are able to preserve its different shades of meaning.

Although the word mindfulness has served us well since it was utilized by Western Buddhist scholars about a century ago, many of us are becoming increasingly concerned that as it enters the mainstream it is becoming less and less recognisable as that which the Buddha taught. One of the most disturbing examples of this aberration is MMFT – Mindfulness-based Mind Fitness Training – a course to help American soldiers function in high-stress situations – in other words, while they’re shooting someone! And so, with a wish to preserve the integrity of Right Mindfulness, and to dissociate ourselves from the likes of MMFT, perhaps it will soon be time to drop the word altogether and return to the original Pali word, which is Sati.

Retreats at Bhavana Dhamma

On a far more positive note we are very pleased to announce that the Bhavana Dhamma Retreats will be starting up again next year. Ajahn Manapo used to lead one a month from 2006 until he left for Thailand in 2011, but even though he returned almost two years ago we didn’t get around to reinstating them. Most of the retreats will be a weekend in length, with a longer Easter retreat, a seven day retreat in August, and a five day retreat over the new year. You will find the schedule and retreat information here, as well as a new and efficient online booking form. If you’re interested in attending one be aware that spaces are limited to about nine.

As January approaches Luang Por and Ajahn Manapo are gearing up for their annual trip to Thailand to attend the Ajahn Chah memorial day on January 16th. Luang Por will depart on Tuesday 13th January, enabling him to lead the first Warwick University Buddhist Group meeting of the new year on Monday 12th. He will then return on Tuesday 3rd February. Ajahn Manapo will head off on the 30th December, giving him a couple of weeks before he meets up with Luang Por. Ajahn Manapo will return on 29th January, in time to lead the Warwick Uni group on the following Monday. While they are both absent the Monday, Wednesday and Friday evening meditation sessions will continue as normal, and an audio CD with chanting, guidance and a talk will be played.

As usual we will be holding our special New Year’s Eve meditation here at the Hermitage. The evening will begin at 8 pm with chanting, meditation and a Dhamma Talk. Tea will then be served and there’ll be a chance to talk to Luang Por. About 30 minutes before midnight everyone will gather again in the Shrine Room to meditate the new year in. Then, as the clock strikes twelve, those present will be invited to approach the shrine one by one to light a stick of incense, all the while determining to let go of all that has happened in 2014 and to make the most of the year that awaits. If you have no commitments that evening, please join us.

And finally we would like to wish you all a Happy New Year.

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GHmontBack in the summer of 2006 we built, with a lot help from the Warwick University Buddhist Society, the log cabin shrine room at Bhavana Dhamma. But before we were able to do that we had to relocate, very carefully, the old timber-framed greenhouse. As you can imagine, it was a delicate operation. Well, after eight years and many a cracked window and sagging roof beam later, we recently decided that it had to go, and so we dismantled it and prepared a new, solid foundation for its replacement. After several weeks of waiting for it to be manufactured, last Friday a lorry arrived and three young men with Sheffield accents erected our new greenhouse/shed combination. It’s a very handsome and practical building and we hope to see lettuces and lupins flourishing next Spring.

Our End of Rains Retreat celebration on October 12th went very well. We didn’t get a precise head count but it looks as though at least 200 people attended – that’s about 195 more than are usually here! Khun Peter came up with two coach-loads from London, there was another coach from Warwick Uni, and then there was the usual procession of cars from far and near, including Khun Nee with a group from Bradford-on-Avon.

After the taking of the Refuges and Precepts and the alms-round and meal, an offering of robes and requisites was made. Then Luang Por, Ajahn Manapo and Sister Khema were invited to give Dhamma Talks. Luangpor reminded everyone that teaching the Dhamma is one of our ways of giving something back to those who so generously support us. He also spoke of the importance of keeping the precepts – especially the fifth, the breaking of which easily leads to the breaking of the rest. And he should know: a high percentage of people he sees in prison are there because of alcohol and drug-related crimes.

The event was concluded by Khun Peter leading the lay-community in asking forgiveness of the Sangha. This is something that we monks do among ourselves during the Rains, and also whenever we leave a monastery after having stayed there for some time. It’s a powerful, humbling practice that clears the air and helps to maintain unity and concord – two qualities that the Buddha praised again and again. All in all it was a great day and over £4,600 was raised. Anumodana and well done to all who took part.


(Khun Peter and his group from London.)

Last Thursday Luang Por and Ajahn Manapo paid a visit to The Orchard, a charming retreat house nestled in the shadows of the Black Mountains on our side of the Welsh border. It’s run by Ad Brugman, a student of an old friend of Luang Por’s called John Garrie (whose pair of golden cranes sit beside the main Buddha rupa in our field – you can see one in the photo at the top). Although John passed away almost twenty years ago, Luang Por has maintained contact with a number of his students, including Ad and, until she passed away last year, his wife, Sonia. It’s because of this long-standing connection that we were recently contacted by Ad who informed us that he has named the Buddha-Dhamma Fellowship as beneficiaries of the Orchard once he has passed away. He has also invited us to begin using it more or less straight away as a venue to hold retreats. The Orchard is a wonderfully neat and secluded place, with far reaching views towards the Black Mountains, and has enormous potential. And it’s also clear that the standard of practice there is excellent, as Luang Por explained in his Dhamma talk the following night…

‘If you want to know how good the practice is, look how clean the monastery’s toilets are.’ So said Ajahn Chah, and it’s a measuring stick that we continue to use. And the Orchard, according to Luang Por (though it’s not a monastery) passed that test admirably. If a toilet – that place which is most likely to be overlooked, neglected and dirty – is in fact immaculate, then that speaks volumes about the resident’s state of mind. Attention to detail, mindfulness and awareness, the practice of concentration – if we can maintain them even while cleaning a toilet, then we are practising well.

ABofCAs it’s the beginning of the new academic year, Luang Por is back at Warwick University every Monday evening to lead the Buddhist Society’s meditation session. So far the turn outs have been very pleasing, with between 30 and 40 people attending. As far as prison work goes, two weeks ago Luang Por spent the afternoon at Lambeth Palace to witness the licensing of Mike Kavanagh as he became the Prison Service’s new Chaplain General. So the Archbishop of Canterbury now finds himself in a photo with Luang Por…

In one of his recent Dhamma talks Ajahn Manapo spoke of the importance of developing mindfulness of the body, and in particular that pure, precise awareness of what the body is doing right now. Mindfulness of the body is like an anchor: without it, our minds are blown from one state of suffering to another – from greed to anger, from depression to restlessness. But once we have that anchor firmly embedded, then we remain focussed and composed, and less likely to be led astray by mental proliferation. There are various techniques that we can use to generate a firm awareness of the body: we can do things silently (try putting the drinking glasses in the cupboard without making a sound); we can do things slowly; we can just stop what we are doing from time to time and allow the momentum of our cravings to fizzle out; and we can of course take a minute or two during a busy period to focus on the breath.

Ajahn Manapo is also getting back into school visit mode. He’s received a number of classes from local schools recently and next week he’ll be taking an assembly each afternoon at Henley-in-Arden High School.

Andy is very close to completing our renovation project. Now all we have to do is pay for it! Sovessel far we’ve received almost £16,000 in donations towards the appeal. We’re not yet sure what the final cost will be, but it will probably be at least double that amount. The water system is up and running, which means decent water pressure and an almost constant supply of hot water even though the boiler is on for two short periods each day. The replacement of the water system in particular has been complicated and time consuming, with two new pumps having been installed in our very deep well, a new hot water tank in the airing cupboard, and a pressure vessel and filter in the ground behind the shrine room (pictured). But it’s been worth it and we are very happy with the result. Well done and thank you to everyone who has contributed so far, and to Andy for being the peerless builder that he is.

And finally, we have now installed five under-rug heating mats in the shrine room, which are proving to be very successful. The trouble with most forms of heating is that all the warmth gets trapped up in the ceiling, and as we spend our time sitting cross-legged on the floor we end up with cold bodies and heads stuck in a cloud of warm, stuffy air – no good for meditators! But with the subtle (and economical) heat which these mats provide we can be comfortable and, what’s more, able to breathe our lovely, cool, Warwickshire air.

Saturday, 4th October

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You wouldn’t have thought it, but the photograph above was taken inside a prison – HMP Spring Hill near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, to be precise. On the evening of Sunday, 14th September we gathered there to celebrate the 22nd anniversary of the opening of the Buddha Grove. The shrine, which is nestled inside a stately area of trees close to the former Grendon Hall, was the first of its kind in the UK.

We were joined by monks from Amaravati, Wat Santiwongsarang, and Wat Mahataht, as well as by many lay supporters who took over the prison kitchens for the afternoon to cook for, and offer food to, the 400 inmates and guests. The evening began with chanting and speeches, before we descended on the canteen to enjoy (or watch others enjoy) the freshly prepared Thai food. Afterwards, once the sun had gone down, we returned to conclude the evening with a candlelit circumambulation around the Buddha Grove.

The practice of dana – of giving with no strings attached – was on full display, and that combined with the warmth and wisdom that suffused the occasion clearly had an effect on all involved, especially the prisoners. One particularly burly, rough-spoken inmate, who in many people’s eyes would deserve a wide berth, came up to Luang Por at the end to thank him. But his words were put in the shade when he imitated what he saw the Thais doing and knelt down on the gravel and bowed. It was a wonderful, moving occasion. Luang Por gives his sincere thanks to Khun Peter and the London group, to Khun Ting from Nottingham, to all the monks who came and chanted so magnificently, and to everyone who made the evening possible. If you can spare 17 minutes, you will find Luang Por’s speech online here.


(Left: Luang Por inspecting the prison kitchen. Right: Service with a smile!)

Back to the monastery, we are now only days away from the end of the Rains Retreat. Our celebration will take place from 10am on Sunday, 12th October and you are all invited. Just to clarify why it’s called the Rains Retreat: it coincides with the Indian Monsoon, when, during the Buddha’s time, monks were told to stop their wandering and remain in one place. The tradition continues to this day even though the original purpose is redundant, and it has instead become a time of increased formal practice and instruction inside forest monasteries. The Rains Retreat is also important for lay people, who in Buddhist countries see it as a sort of Buddhist lent. So it’s a time to give up something, to do more daily formal practice, and to generally try to make that little bit more progress on the path.

The concluding day of the Rains is called Pavarana Day. This is an occasion when we monks make pavarana (an invitation) to our fellows, asking them to offer any advice and criticism they may have regarding our conduct. Naturally it should all be done in a spirit of loving-kindness and compassion, with an aim to help each other develop wisdom and understanding.

With this unseasonably good weather we have been able to complete many much-needed jobs at both of our properties. The path in the corner of the monastery has been relaid, and the old and decrepit greenhouse at Bhavana Dhamma has finally been taken away. Ajahn Manapo and Will carefully removed the glass (much of which was broken) and then dismantled the frame. They then set to creating a foundation for a new greenhouse-shed combination that will be arriving in about a month. It was no small job, with a deep trench to be dug in the afternoon, and over 3 tons of concrete to be mixed the following morning. We look forward to seeing flowers and fresh salad flourishing within it’s glazed walls in the near future. And just last week we relocated Luang Por’s fish pond to a sunnier location. (We hope he will not be inspired by his favourite part in The Life of Milarepa when Marpa tells the young apprentice to build a house, before telling him it’s in the wrong place and asking him to build it somewhere else, before telling him the new one’s also in the wrong place…)

Mr Win

Finally, we’re sorry to report that U Nay Win, a long-term Burmese supporter of the Hermitage, has died. He was a very dedicated Buddhist and a man of great energy and enthusiasm. Only the other week he was here visiting with his family, filling the place with his warm, contagious laughter. But an undetected cancer became apparent shortly afterward and within a week or so he had passed away.

May Mr Win eventually attain the secure peace of Nibbana and  be free from all suffering.

Saturday 13th September


In forest monasteries it’s normal for the daily routine to be periodically changed, often with no warning. For weeks on end the sound of the bell will resonate throughout the monastery every morning and evening, calling the monks, novices and lay-guests to gather for chanting and meditation. Then, all of a sudden, it will stop, and the residents will be left to meditate by themselves, forced back upon their powers of self-discipline (as well as their ability to not hit the snooze button). And so as we approach the end of the Rains Retreat all morning sittings at the Hermitage have been postponed, and, apart from the Monday, Wednesday and Friday open evenings, so have the evening meetings.

Two weeks ago, on Saturday 30th August, we hosted an Angulimala workshop, when Buddhist prison chaplains from all over the country gathered for meetings and to collect supplies. Taking Buddhism into the prisons can be demanding work (not usually because of the prisoners, I should add) and these occasions provide a nourishing atmosphere of support and understanding.

On the following day, Cormac, from Northern Ireland, took Anagarika ordination, thus taking his first major step on the path to becoming a monk. He joins Tobias as a white-robed postulant, and as they are both a staggering 6’6” tall we now have two precocious fruit pickers to help collect the Hermitage’s vast quantities of blackberries, apples, plums and damsons, as they make their way into one of Sister Khema’s crumbles. There are still many blackberries to be picked so if you’d like to lend a hand let us know.

Luang Por’s recent morning talks to the community have been focussed largely on the 75 Sekhiya rules, which apply to both monks and novices, and which anagarikas and nuns are also encouraged to observe. The Sekhiyas are minor but important precepts governing the way we eat, behave in public, and teach the Dhamma. In connection with these rules we’re often reminded of the Venerable Assaji, who, by his composed and restrained manner while collecting alms-food in a village, inspired Sariputta to approach and question him. Assaji gave a very brief summary of the Buddha’s teachings – but enough for Sariputta to reach the first stage of Enlightenment – and then directed Sariputta to the Buddha himself. When explaining the Sekhiyas concerning teaching the Dhamma, Luang Por drew our attention to their underlying principle, which is to ensure that the listener is in a respectful, receptive state of mind and so able to absorb the teachings for maximum benefit.

In his public evening Dhamma Talks Luang Por has been pressing home the need to stabilise the mind during meditation. Watching and investigating our experiences occupies a central part of the development of wisdom, but without a firm foundation in concentration we make little headway on our quest to understanding. In the same vein he also narrated a sutta where the Buddha lists five things that lead to the decline of Buddhism. These are: lack of respect for the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Sangha, the Training, and Samadhi (the practice of concentration).

In one of his Dhamma talks during the last two weeks Ajahn Manapo spoke of the need to remind ourselves of the purpose of mindfulness. The Buddha would compare mindfulness to the probe used by a physician to investigate a wound in order to locate the poison. The probe, the Buddha said, is like mindfulness; the wound, our experiences; and the poison, ignorance. So mindfulness is that which investigates experiences – from our thoughts and feelings, to sights and sounds – in order to remove ignorance and see their true nature. It is much more than simply being here and now (though that is certainly a part of it); it is the key to unlocking the truth of our existence and freeing our minds from all greed, hatred and delusion. Ajahn Manapo has also been to visit the Banbury group, and will be seeing them again at Bhavana Dhamma next Tuesday evening to talk about Right Effort.

Last Sunday was another big day for us. Khun Peter, who recently retired from the restaurant business, brought up a coach-load from London. With about forty people, a marquee full of piping hot Thai food, and the practice of giving (offering food to the monks), morality (taking the Refuges and Precepts) and mental cultivation (listening to a talk) it was a bit like a mini festival. It was a great day and a lot of money was raised, so well done to Khun Peter for organising everything. It is likely that this will become a monthly event, taking the place of Luang Por’s visits to London that used to happen on the first Sunday of every month. You are always welcome to bring food on any Sunday (or on any other day for that matter), but these occasions will be particularly suitable for introducing you to the practice of giving alms-food to the monks. And, for those of you who are new to Buddhism but are considering making a stronger commitment, you would also have the opportunity to observe, and perhaps join in with, people taking the Refuges and Precepts. And, if you needed any more persuasion, there’s the rather fine Thai cuisine…

Luke, Luang Por’s devoted driver, took some time off the week before last for a well-deserved holiday. Yet again Khun Peter came to the rescue and stepped into Luke’s shoes. We’re also very grateful to Tom, who used to be a novice here, for lending his time and expertise. Over the next few weeks you should notice evidence of his landscaping skills at work in the grounds. And our master builder, Andy, has just installed a new waste-pipe from the back toilet, so you can look forward to using the facilities without it sounding like a machine gun is going off every time you flush.

And finally, expressing his appreciation for the training he received as a drama student (a training which led to his interest in Buddhism), and doing his duty to an old teacher, last Friday Luang Por travelled to London to meet up with Christopher Fettes in order to discuss recording the unusual circumstances that surrounded the founding of Drama Centre, London. They were joined by Simon Callow, a more recent student of Drama Centre who also used to sell the tickets to the shows in which Luang Por appeared during his time at the National Theatre in the Sixties.



Thursday 28th August, 2014


It seems like only the other day when we celebrated Asalha Puja and began this year’s three month-long Rains Retreat, yet last Saturday marked the half-way point. In his Dhamma talk to the resident community on Saturday evening Luangpor reminded us of this fact and urged us to use the remaining time as best we can. He also spoke of the importance of perseverance and of keeping our meditation practice fresh – essential when we’re doing the same, simple exercise over and over again. Last month was Luangpor’s 70th birthday, an occasion that was marked by an impressive gathering of about thirty monks, as you can see in the photo above. And two weeks ago we celebrated another birthday: our pagoda turned twenty-six. It took 8 days to build and was finished on 8/8/88.

As there are five of us resident here at the moment we have the luxury of being able to take it in turns to be on private retreat, with Anagarika Tobias ensconced in his kuti this week. Luangpor has also been giving short teachings after most morning sittings, concentrating particularly on the monastic discipline, as well as encouraging us to keep a simple and direct approach to meditation practice. The other day he reminded us that during his time at Wat Pah Pong, Ajahn Chah, knowing how attached to reading his Western monks were, made them promise to not read any books for at least a year. ‘The only book worth reading,’ he once famously said, ‘is this one.’ and he pointed to his heart. After all, most books on Buddhism tell us more about the author than the Dhamma, and so if we aren’t careful, instead of letting go of our views and opinions we only add to them.

In his Dhamma talk last Wednesday evening Ajahn Manapo focused on what it means to go for refuge to the Triple Gem, contrasting the secure Refuges of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha to the various pleasures, diversions and distractions that most people seek refuge in but which ultimately leave them unsatisfied and vulnerable to more suffering. Next Tuesday evening Ajahn Manapo will be off to visit the Banbury Buddhist Group to kick off their Autumn/Winter term.


Coming to more mundane matters, we have just finished giving the woodwork at Bhavana Dhamma a much-needed lick of paint. Ajahn Manapo and Cormac scaled the heights to attend to the fascia and barge boards, with Dasith lending a hand to complete the garage’s woodwork on Saturday. Mae Chii Bhaddha – formerly Chanyaa – has proven to be a natural with the lawnmower and, with Maureen’s guidance, is keeping the Bhavana Dhamma gardens nice and tidy. Sarah and Sue from the Banbury Group popped by last week to lend their time and expertise in attempting to tame the flower beds.

We are also pleased to announce that we have just taken delivery of thirty maroon buckwheat meditation cushions, which we will begin to use once a satisfactory means of storing them has been devised (not just in a pile on the floor!). We have been in need of new cushions for a long time now and because of a number of very generous donations as part of our renovation appeal we have at last managed to get some. Thank you to everybody who contributed!

As far as the major projects on our renovations list goes, Andy the Builder is in the process of installing the new water system, which will include fitting a 200 litre pressure vessel into a large hole behind the shrine room. Better water pressure will be very welcome, particularly on our busy festival days when the toilet cisterns struggle to fill up in time. Peter Arch – a long-term friend of the Hermitage – very kindly trimmed our formidably large leylandii hedge last week, so thank you, Peter. Mark and Anne, BDF Treasurer and Ajahn Manapo’s mum respectively, are currently organising a car boot sale to help raise funds for the renovation appeal.

At the moment, while Luangpor conducts his usual prison visits, those of us not on retreat are busy preparing Buddha images, posters, books, incense holders and so on in preparation for this Saturday’s Angulimala Workshop.