Everything speaks the Dhamma, it is often said; we just need to learn how to listen. And now, as November turns to December, and December to the new year, the truth of anicca, of impermanence – of the rise and fall of all conditioned things – speaks to us with ever-increasing volume.
As well as being a time of teaching, it is also an opportunity to take stock, examine our lives, and remind ourselves of what is truly important. And for those of us following the Buddha’s Path, that means ensuring we are doing all that we can to move that little bit closer to the goal of a mind that is free of suffering.
On the 31st December we’ll be holding our annual New Year’s Eve gathering here at the Hermitage. It’ll start at 8 pm, with chanting, meditation and a Dhamma Talk from Luangpor. Then there’ll be a tea break, before we go back into the shrine room and sit until midnight. At that point, as the monks chant the Parittas, everyone will be invited to approach the shrine and light a stick of incense. It will be a symbolic gesture to help you let go of the past and to determine to do your best in the year ahead.
For anyone coming from afar, we do have a few spaces on the floor at the Hermitage should you wish to stay the night. Please contact us in advance if you think you might need to stay.
Going back several weeks, on 24th October we concluded this year’s Rains Retreat, with our public celebration and Robe Offering taking place on the following Sunday.
We were joined by Sisters Jinho and Hyoeun, one a chaplain and the other a research student from Bristol University, with a few more students from Bristol and a larger contingent from Warwick University. Khun Peter and his group from London also came along, as did many, many others from near and far.
Once those present had taken the Refuges and Precepts, the monks and nuns proceeded around the grounds on alms-round, with each person depositing a spoonful or two of rice into their bowls. After everyone had eaten, the robe offering was made and Luangpor gave a Dhamma Talk, which you can watch here, and handed out the Forest Hermitage Calendar for 2019. If you’d like one sent to you, let us know.
On the whole it was a great day, and people were incredibly generous with their help, time and financial support, with a fantastic £5000 being raised to help with the refurbishment of Luangpor’s kuti. Anumodana and well done to everyone who contributed!
Apart from his usual regular weekly and fortnightly visits to seven prisons, Luangpor has also been doing his best to fit in visits to prisons where there is no Buddhist chaplain for the time being and so lately has been to HMPs Cardiff, Usk and Prescoed, and Ashfield.
Earlier in the year Luangpor, together with the Bishop to the Prisons, sat on the board that appointed the new Chaplain General of the Prison Service and at the end of last month James Ridge, the successful candidate, called to see him for a morning meeting. And he was here again a few days ago with a selection of chaplains of different faiths for Luangpor’s Buddhist contribution to the Prison Service’s World Faiths Course.
The last Angulimala workshop of the year was held here on Saturday 24th November. As part of the day’s activities, Luangpor decided to hold a Christmas Quiz, with questions ranging from identifying famous disciples of the Buddha to detecting fake Buddha quotes in a list. Luangpor also distributed the 2019 Angulimala Calendar, which we had received hot off the press from our local printer on the previous day. Calendars are important to prisoners, and we think that this one, with its views, Buddha images and quotes from the Buddha, will bring a ray of light and hope into those dingy, forgotten places.
The 2019 Angulimala Calendar image for May and June
On 16th October Luangpor was in Oxford for a meeting of the committee of TBSUK: that’s the Theravada Buddhist Sangha in the UK, an association of all Theravada monks and nuns in this country of which Luangpor is the Chairman. The meeting concerned the conference that TBSUK is organising in June next year at which Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi will be the principal speaker. We’re very much looking forward to it.
Ajahn Midt, a senior Thai monk on a brief visit to the UK and Ireland called at the Hermitage on 13th November for the meal and to pay his respects to Luangpor. His group of supporters were exceptionally generous – especially considering they’d never been here before – and donated about £1,500 towards the work on Luangpor’s kuti.
Just over a week ago, on Sunday 18th November, Luangpor attended the Royal Kathina ceremony at Amaravati monastery in Hertfordshire. After the robe offering he gave a Dhamma Talk, during which he touched upon his prison work and the upcoming TBSUK conference.
Luangpor, with Ajahn Midt and Co.
Ajahn Manapo has had an eventful month teaching local schoolchildren, seeing groups both here and at their schools. He also spent the morning of the 8th November at the University of Birmingham, leading two meditation workshops for the MSc International Accounting & Finance students.
As well as this he has been working on producing some guidance for local schools concerning do’s and don’ts when teaching Buddhism in the classroom. Topics include the correct way to handle a Buddha image and considerations to make when setting up a shrine. If you’re interested, you can see it here.
On Thursday 15th October, when talking to some children from Knightlow Primary School, near Rugby, about the Buddha’s Enlightenment, Ajahn Manapo began by asking them to show their hands if they ever experience greed, anger, confusion, fear and so on. Naturally, their hands stayed in the air. Then he asked them if, while experiencing those things, they are happy and peaceful. ‘No!’ they of course replied. Then he explained that when the Buddha attained Enlightenment he got rid of all of those things from his mind: ‘All of his greed disappeared… All of his anger disappeared…’ and so on. Then he asked them how they think the Buddha felt afterwards. One young girl put her hand up and said, without hesitation, ‘Brilliant!’
During another primary school visit, one of the children asked why we have two large images of skeletons in the shrine room. Ajahn Manapo explained that in many of our monasteries we actually have real skeletons on display. Then he said, ‘Did you know there are about 65 real skeletons in this room?’ Their jaws dropped and they started looking around. ‘Must be under the floor!’, said one boy. Then finally, with a collective gasp, the penny dropped.
Next Monday Ajahn Manapo will be spending the afternoon at King’s High School for Girls, in Warwick, where he will speak to classes of GCSE students. And then, on the following Wednesday, a group of Sixth-Formers are coming all the way from Nottingham to visit the Hermitage.
Ajahn Manapo continues to go on alms-round in Warwick every Wednesday, where he stands outside the Warwickshire Museum on Swan Street between 10 and 10:30 am. He’d be very pleased to see you there.
There’s just one more retreat at Bhavana Dhamma left this year, and that is the five-day New Year Retreat. It is, unfortunately, very full. We’d love to welcome more people on to these retreats but at the moment we just don’t have the space. The 2019 retreat schedule will hopefully be online soon.
While on the subject of retreats, we’d like to take this opportunity to thank Maureen, Ben, Chamila, Anne, Kanlaya and Steven, Lasanta, Sarah, Pavinee, Krissirin and everybody else who helped with, contributed towards and cooked for these retreats over the last ten months. Anumodana! We could not do it without you.
16th – 18th November weekend retreat
Moving on to our regular public meditation sittings: as well as the Monday and Friday open evenings, we are considering holding a more informal meditation workshop/meeting with a Dhamma talk and chat on Sunday afternoons. These could be weekly or monthly depending on how much interest there is. We realise that many of you cannot make it here on a week night, so perhaps a Sunday offering would suit you. Please let us know what you think!
Our beloved old Citroen C5 estate, which, before its partial retirement last year, had for a long time been used to take Luangpor to the prisons, finally proved itself beyond repair the other week, and so we had no choice but to let it go. Nanu, our very generous and helpful local mechanic, is in the process of sourcing a similar inexpensive, second-hand estate to be the Hermitage’s general runabout.
And finally, for Luangpor and Ajahn Manapo, January usually means Thailand. The 16th will be the 27th anniversary of Ajahn Chah’s passing, and they both hope to be at Wat Pah Pong for the memorial event.