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Saturday 23rd December 2017
As we prepare to bid farewell to yet another year, we’d like to say thank you very much for all your support. It’s been quite a busy twelve months here at the Hermitage, but all that we’ve achieved has only been made possible by the generosity shown by many of you. The completion of the new roof and the purchase of a car were particular milestones, and both were financed almost entirely by donations made specifically for those projects. Without your gifts of time, food and money this place would not exist, and so for whatever you might have contributed – whether large or small, as a one off or every week – we say Anumodana! (Thank You and Well Done!). We hope we have lived up to your kindness.
We woke to a pleasant surprise on 19th December
Going back to important recent events, in mid-October we concluded the annual Rains Retreat with a robe offering. Several days before this, a face that will be familiar to anyone who visited here between 1999 and 2003 reappeared. Matthew, who was the driving force behind the acquisition of Wood Cottage (now Bhavana Dhamma) in 2003, has returned to help. We’re very pleased to see him back.
In mid-September, shortly after our last newsletter was released, Luangpor (accompanied by Ajahn Manapo and Ross) finally managed to make the long journey south to Tyneham, the famous Dorset village that was abandoned during the Second World War and which is now an open-air museum of sorts. For some years now, Luangpor has been meaning to return the old school clock which his mother inherited from relatives who once lived in the village. The clock – a large oak and brass contraption – was gratefully received by a friendly Colonel (the area is still controlled by the MOD – which has, it must be said, done a good job of preserving the site) during a brief and informal ceremony in the old school hall.
Two of Luangpor’s relatives from Tyneham were the sisters that often feature in his Dhamma talks on mindfulness. The practice of mindfulness has many facets, three of which are cleanliness, orderliness and caring for our possessions, and the sisters were exemplars of all three. Their gardening tools – which were used every day – were so clean and well-cared for that you could see your reflection in them, and had your dinner been placed on the floor of their shed you’d have been quite happy to have eaten it. Their approach to life brings a certain Ajahn Chah saying to mind: ‘If you want to know the state of practice in a monastery, look how clean the toilets are.’
The last three months have seen their usual share of prison visiting and associated events. On the 17th September Luangpor, accompanied by a group of about eighteen monks, led the 25th anniversary celebration of the Buddha Grove at HMP Springhill in Buckinghamshire. Khun Peter and his entourage commandeered the kitchen, ensuring that the 400 inmates plus guests were treated to Thai noodles, curries and spring-rolls.
On Saturday 28th November we hosted the fourth and last Angulimala workshop of the year. A crowd of just over twenty Buddhist prison chaplains from as far afield as Devon and Northumberland gathered here for a day of meetings, workshops and conversations, and to collect supplies such as books, Buddha images and meditation beads. Luangpor also distributed Angulimala’s calendar for 2018, the theme of which is the Three Refuges and the Five Precepts.
Ajahn Manapo has continued to lead the monthly retreats at Bhavana Dhamma (the 2018 programme is now online here) and has also spent numerous afternoons teaching Dhamma to schoolchildren both here and at various primary and secondary schools in the area.
Ajahn Manapo with St John’s Priory School from Banbury
During October he made three visits to the Heart of England secondary school in Solihull, and in that time managed to see its Year 8 pupils – all 200+ of them. The response was excellent and the school hopes to repeat it next year.
One monastery visit of note was made by All Saints Primary in Warwick. It was memorable not so much for what happened on the day but for the children’s thank you letters (complete with colourful drawings of the Buddha), in which a number of them proudly stated that they are now meditating all the time.
The short documentary for schools called the Day in the Life of a Buddhist Monk that was mentioned in our last newsletter has now been released. It features Ajahn Manapo talking about his life, as well as Buddhist teaching in general, and is accompanied by scenes of him going about his business at the Hermitage. If you like, you can watch it here.
In late October we marked the one-year anniversary of King Bhumiphol of Thailand’s passing. Luangpor made two trips to Wat Buddhapadipa (the Thai temple in Wimbledon) – both for the anniversary, and for the funeral. The latter was a massive affair, with about 3000 people gathering to say their last farewells to their beloved former King. Although a man of prodigious wealth, in private the King lived in relative simplicity, and he devoted much of his time to helping improve the lives of Thai people. He had also been a keen meditator, and was a great patron of the Thai Forest Tradition, often visiting the forest meditation masters of the day. On Saturday 28th we held our own small event for Warwick University’s Thai Society (photos below).
As for what’s next: we will be holding our regular New Year’s Eve meditation next week. It will begin at 8 pm, with chanting, meditation and a Dhamma talk. Following that we’ll break for tea, before returning to the shrine room for the last time this year. We will then see in 2018 with our eyes closed and minds concentrated. At midnight, the monks will chant the Parittas (verses of blessing and protection) while those in attendance will be invited to light an incense stick at the shrine as a symbolic gesture of letting go of the past and determining to make the most of the future. Anyone is welcome to join.
On New Year’s Day there will be another small event here. Khun Peter and Co. will be coming up from London to offer the meal, and we hope to be joined by many local monastery friends. It’s going to begin at about 10:30 am, with those present taking the Three Refuges and Five Precepts, and will be followed by an alms-round for the monks and then a Thai buffet for everybody else. After that there will be a chance to make offerings, practise meditation and listen to a Dhamma Talk. If there’s a better way to start 2018, let us know!
On January 3rd, the day after the New Year retreat finishes at Bhavana Dhamma, Ajahn Manapo will fly off to Thailand. Luangpor will follow a week later, just in time to celebrate the 26th anniversary of Ajahn Chah’s passing on the 16th. Next year would have seen Ajahn Chah’s 100th birthday, and so Wat Pah Pong – the monastery he founded and the home of our tradition – is preparing for an especially large gathering. Luangpor and Ajahn Manapo will return on 1st February, in time to relieve Ajahn Cittagutto, who will be monastery sitting while they’re away.
That’s it from us for now. May 2018 bring you good health, success and happiness.
Happy New Year
Since our last newsletter (eight months ago!) many things have happened here at the Hermitage, as you might have guessed.
Perhaps most significant of all has been the completion of the roof renovation project. Work started at the beginning of May and was more or less completed by the end of July. Andy the Builder led the project, with ongoing assistance provided by Hermitage residents and guests. We also had several work days where many of you showed up to lend a hand, helping to remove tiles (and later put them back on), strip off the old baton, pull out rusty nails, cut insulation… It was a real team effort and we’re very grateful indeed for the effort made and time given.
Of course it all had to be paid for, and we’re pleased to announce that this has now been done thanks to many donations both large and small. According to Andy it was a £30,000 job, but we managed to do it for just under £23,000, largely thanks to saving on labour costs. We now have a ‘warm roof’, with eight inches of insulation (compared to little over zero inches before), which should make quite a difference to the warmth and energy efficiency of the property. The fascia and barge boards are all rosewood-effect PVC (matching the new windows) and will therefore require minimum maintenance.
And so, from Luangpor and everyone at the Hermitage, Anumodana! (Well Done and Thank You!) to everyone who contributed with your money and time.
Just last weekend, on Saturday 2nd September, we hosted the third Angulimala workshop of the year. Luangpor had managed to secure Peter Clarke, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, as the guest speaker, and we therefore had an unusually large turn-out of 30 Buddhist prison chaplains who were eager to hear him speak. Because of the expected larger numbers, the majority of the day’s meetings were held in one of our festival marquees, which, as you can see below, was situated in the field and incorporated the main Buddha image. Thankfully the weather was fine and the marquee a great success.
At the end of the afternoon Luangpor took the opportunity to present everyone with a copy of the new book, Common Buddhist Text – Guidance and Insight from the Buddha, which was launched by Thailand’s Mahachula’ University when he was there in May. This is a book he believes will be of enormous help to everyone in the prisons – both inmates and chaplains.
As always, the hunt is on for new prison chaplains to accommodate the ever-growing number of prisoners throughout the UK. If you are interested in the challenging yet highly rewarding role of Buddhist Prison Chaplain, please read this and get in touch.
On Sunday 17th September we will be making our annual trip to HMP Springhill for the Buddha Grove ceremony. It will have been 25 years since the opening of this special place (the first of its kind), and we expect to be joined by up to twenty monks from various monasteries, as well as a good crowd of our supporters. As usual, Khun Peter will commandeer the prison kitchen for the afternoon, and, assisted by his gang of helpers, will ensure the 320 inmates plus staff and guests are well fed with Thai food and kindness.
Back in May Luangpor attended a conference in Thailand, as part of the Visakha Puja celebrations, where he spoke on Mindfulness in the Ajahn Chah Tradition. Unfortunately, owing to a spectacular electrical storm, the programme was somewhat disrupted and he ended up speaking for only twenty minutes. However, it was still very well-received and he was able to provide an insight into Ajahn Chah’s unique approach to practice. Following that he was invited to the UN building where it was announced that, to his surprise, he would be giving another talk. And then, only four days after having arrived, it was again time to board the plane.
With the start of the school year Ajahn Manapo’s calendar is beginning to fill up, not only with school visits but local cub group visits, too. As mentioned in previous newsletters he has been involved in the production of a new RE syllabus for Coventry and Warwickshire. This has now been launched and we hope the teachers will find the Buddhist content both helpful and meaningful. He has also been working with a non-profit organisation called TrueTube, which produces free RE video resources for schools. They are in the process of creating a series of day-in-the-life videos, and Ajahn Manapo features in the Buddhist one.
Just before the beginning of the Vassa, in early July, Ajahn Manapo embarked on another tudong – this time with a difference: he began at the monastery gate and just walked, following no particular route and with little notion of where he was going. He did all of this without money or food, depending solely upon the generosity of people he met on the way. Five days later he ended up just east of Bristol. It was a remarkable experience which was capped off quite unexpectedly with him teaching meditation to the Vicar of Badminton on the front lawn of the vicarage. An account of his adventure is hopefully on the way.
The monthly retreats at Bhavana Dhamma continue to be popular and as such fill up pretty quickly. We are now taking bookings for the New Year retreat, and so if you’d like to apply please go ahead. There are a few spaces left for men on the October retreat and spaces for both men and women on the early December retreat. We are very grateful to everybody who helps to support these retreats, and in particular, Benyapa. The photos below are from the August bank holiday retreat.
While working on the roof we had to re-point some of the cement between the brickwork, and as we’ve often lamented the fact that the brickwork was ever painted (long before our time), we took the opportunity to try to strip off the paint. After some experimentation we’ve found the right product and method, and so we are now in the process of revealing the bricks in all their old-fashioned glory. As you can see from the photos, it should be worth the effort. If anyone would like to lend a hand in the coming months we’d be very grateful!
Another imminent project is the resurfacing of the Bhavana Dhamma (Wood Cottage) forecourt. Within the next few weeks it will be tarmacked, which will solve the perennial problems caused by the rain and mud. It won’t be cheap, but it needs to be done.
And finally, now that it’s the middle of September, and only a few days past the full moon, we are just over two-thirds of the way through the annual Rains Retreat (the Vassa). The Vassa (or Pansa, in Thai) is what monks use to count their years in robes. Consequently, this will be Luangpor’s 46th and Ajahn Manapo’s 17th. Also in residence for this period have been Samanera Pannyavuddho, the novice, and Anagarika Ross, who is both back-up chef and Luangpor’s driver. The Rains Retreat will end on Thursday 5th October, and our public celebration will take place on the following Sunday, being the 8th. More details to follow in the next couple of weeks.
That’s it from us for now. May you be happy and free from suffering.
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In the forest monasteries of our tradition, January means one thing: the annual Ajahn Chah memorial celebration. On the 16th of this month, when it will have been 25 years since he passed away, Wat Pah Pong will host a gathering of thousands – perhaps even tens of thousands – of monks, nuns and lay-people as they remember the great man and his legacy.
Because of this, both Luangpor and Ajahn Manapo will be away in Thailand for most of the month. Ajahn Manapo flies out this evening, having a bit of time to himself before he receives Luangpor at Wat Pah Nanachat on the 14th. After a week or so in the Northeast they will fly over to Mandalay in neighboring Burma, from where they hope to catch a boat to Bagan. A visit to Yangon, and specifically the magnificent Shwedagon Pagoda, will conclude their Burmese excursion.
Luangpor circumambulating the Shwe Zigon Pagoda in Bagan, last January
After Burma they’ll have a couple of days in Cha-am, in Southern Thailand, before Ajahn Manapo heads back to the UK on the 31st. On the 4th February Luangpor will zip over to Korat for a couple of nights at Wat Pah Rattanawan, the rather well-appointed monastery of Ajahn Nyanadhammo, where there will be a sima dedication ceremony. Luangpor will land back on British soil (or London tarmac) on the 6th.
Ajahn Cittagutto, a German monk who ordained here in 1992 and who normally stays in the north of Thailand, has very kindly offered to hold the reigns (and Jimmy’s dog lead) while they’re away. The Monday and Friday meditation evenings will thus continue as normal, as will the Warwick Uni Buddhist Society’s Monday meetings.
The last few months have, as usual, seen their fair share of prison- and school-related activities. Luangpor led two Angulimala workshops, handing out the ever-popular Angulimala calendars in the December meeting, and clocked up countless miles visiting both local and distant prisons, including trips to Portland and Doncaster.
A perennial challenge that faces Luangpor in his work is the need to recruit new prison chaplains. The difficulty is compounded by the fact that many of those who apply are unwilling to keep the fifth precept properly – a precept which is of the utmost importance when you are trying to help men and women who for the most part have serious alcohol and drug-related problems, and who are often behind bars because of misusing those substances.
Children from All Saints’ School in Warwick meditating in the Shrine Room.
Ajahn Manapo has been kept relatively busy with not only school visits, but local cub and scout groups, too. As usual, the meditation was a real hit, with one girl at Balsall Common’s Heart of England School remarking, after a few minutes of focussing on her breath, ‘I feel like I’ve just been on holiday and come back home.’
The End of Vassa celebration came and went in mid-October, and because of the passing of His Majesty King Bhumipol only a few days before, it also served as a memorial for the widely-adored late Thai King. Several retreats have also taken place at Bhavana Dhamma since our last newsletter, the most recent of which finished just yesterday as twelve retreatants spent the final three days of 2016 and the first two days of 2017 in silent meditation.
End of Vassa gathering on the 16th October
Of course, the highlight of that retreat was joining in with the New Year’s Eve celebration at the Hermitage. Unfortunately, Ajahn Cittagutto’s flight from Germany on the 31st was cancelled because of London fog, and so he wasn’t able to lend his voice to the midnight chanting. But it was still a singularly uplifting occasion: it’s not often you get a room of thirty people celebrating the beginning of a new year in meditative silence and without the assistance of intoxicants. If only more would follow our example!
Going back to the subject of retreats at Bhavana Dhamma, the schedule for 2017 is now online. Bookings open three months before the start date of each retreat, unless you’ve attended one before – then you can book at any time.
These retreats could not function without the support of people like you, and we are particularly grateful to Benyapa for her unwavering service in the kitchen, and to Emma for helping to maintain the house and garden. We are also indebted to the many people who have provided food over the last year, including Kanlaya, Sarah, Anne, Nawaporn, Priya, Trish, Donna, Fon and Matthew.
As with any old building, the maintenance and improvement of the Hermitage is an ongoing project. We are lucky to have Andy at the helm, who is not only a peerless builder (the term builder really doesn’t do him justice) but also a great friend. Thanks to him the installation of the new windows is 99% complete – there’s just one little bit of finishing off to do, but as it involves a brittle phone line and thus the cooperation of BT we are not optimistic that it will be accomplished any time this century… Once again, a big thank you to Noi, Pen and Oi for sponsoring the windows.
We have also been in talks with Andy about our roof, which is in quite a dilapidated state. It is our intention to replace it later in the year, installing a ‘warm roof’ in its place. It’ll be a massive job, but we haven’t got much choice, and the new so-called ‘warm roof’ will make a substantial difference to the building’s insulation properties.
That’s it from us for now. We at the Hermitage and Bhavana Dhamma wish you all a Very Happy New Year. May you continue to grow in virtue, wisdom and peace of mind. Hopefully we’ll see you here in the not-too distant future.
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Buddhist monasteries may for the most part be refuges of stillness and solitude, but there’s one thing that even we can’t escape: roadworks.
Yes, our little lane will soon become the site of diggers, portaloos and hard-hats as the local council begin replacing the bridge between the Hermitage and Sherbourne. Work will begin in the first week of October and is estimated to take up to twelve weeks. During this time you won’t be able to access the Hermitage from the Sherbourne (Warwick) end of Fulbrook Lane and will instead need to approach us from the Hampton Lucy (Stratford) end.
Continuing with his trend of reading from the Pali Canon on Friday evenings, just the other week Luangpor narrated the Angulimala Sutta. Here we witness the Buddha’s kindness and understanding bring about a remarkable change in a serial killer going by the nickname of Angulimala (which means ‘Finger Necklace’ – we’ll spare you the gory details).
As a result of his encounter with the Buddha, not only did this formidable character renounce harming others, but he ordained as a monk and eventually attained Enlightenment. Towards the end of the sutta King Pasenadi of Kosala, who, with a troop of soldiers, had been trying to hunt down Angulimala, praises the Buddha: ‘What we failed to do with both force and weapons, you accomplished with neither force nor weapons.’
That last quote needs to be carved into the office door of every world leader.
On the subject of the Buddha’s words, although the internet is allowing more people than ever to access the Dhamma, it is also proving to be a veritable breeding ground for, among other questionable things, fake Buddha quotes. Indeed, if you do a Google image search of ‘Buddha quotes’ you’ll be hard pressed to find a single genuine quote! As a precaution, we’d suggest always using reliable sources (which rules out most dedicated quotation websites), and being skeptical of quotes that lack a sutta reference. Generally speaking, if a quote sounds like it’s been uttered by Mystic Meg, then it probably has.
On Saturday 3rd September we hosted the penultimate Angulimala workshop of the year. About 20 chaplains from various corners of the country gathered for several hours of meditation, discussions and meetings. It’s worth pointing out that Angulimala, the Buddhist Prison Chaplaincy, is one of a kind; no other religion has a comparable organisation that supports its members as Angulimala does.
Last Sunday Luangpor led a large group of monks and Thai supporters during the annual Springhill Prison Buddha Grove Celebration. As well as the usual chanting, speeches, Thai buffet (spearheaded by the indefatigable Khun Peter) and candlelit circumambulation, we also held a short tree-planting ceremony for Lord Avebury, the late Patron of Angulimala and a veteran of this event. A gingko biloba, enshrined within a fine cast-iron tree guard and marked with a slate plaque, has taken its place in the grove. His son, the new Lord Avebury, as well as his widow, Lindsay, and daughter, Victoria, were all in attendance.
While on the subject of prisons, we’re pleased to announce that Adrian is now driving Luangpor. No sooner had we stuck up a poster in the foyer asking for help when he appeared out of the blue (fresh from China) and said he’d do it.
In a recent Monday evening Dhamma Talk Ajahn Manapo spoke about fear and how to overcome it. He suggested that instead of focusing on the object of our fear we should be mindful of the fear itself, and in particular of the various physical sensations and feelings associated with it. When we do this, he said, we will see that it is in fact our aversion to these feelings that is at the root of the problem. By investigating these sensations not only do we extricate the mind from the whirlpool of thoughts, but we begin to discover their true nature: that they are transient and without substance. Once this is seen, the aversion loses its foothold and the fear – and thus the suffering – falls away.
A week last Sunday the Hermitage witnessed another Sunday School Class. The recent summer holidays meant a few things had been forgotten and so Ajahn Manapo did a quick re-cap of some of the key episodes of the Buddha’s early life. Afterwards they had a Dhamma chat (with the odd foray into matters less-connected with Buddhism…) before practising mindfulness of breathing for a few minutes. As a little experiment, at the beginning of the session he had the children recite, in English, the five precepts. It was very successful and will now be a staple ingredient of each monthly class, the next of which is on Sunday 9th October, at 12:30 pm.
16th-18th September Weekend Retreat at Bhavana Dhamma
Last weekend Ajahn Manapo led a retreat at Bhavana Dhamma. Being that it’s the Rains Retreat he wasn’t able to leave the Hermitage before dawn and so the eleven intrepid retreatants ventured over there for the two morning sittings. The weather was fine. the food was even better (thanks to Hui Peng from Leeds), and the meditation was, hopefully, very productive for all involved. There are a few spaces left on the November and New Year retreats, so apply sooner rather than later if you’d like to attend.
It’s almost October which means that the Warwick University Buddhist Society will soon be kicking off its twice-weekly meetings. Luangpor will lead the Monday sessions and Ajahn Manapo the Thursday ones. As usual, these evenings are open to all, and so if you’re in the area feel free to drop in. Contact us for details on the time and venue.
As the end of this year’s Rains Retreat (Vassa) approaches we are looking ahead to our final major celebration of the year. Pavarana Day, which marks the last day of the Vassa, falls on Sunday 16th and so, unusually, we are able to have our public celebration on the actual day.
The word Pavarana means invitation, and it refers to the Buddha’s instruction that all monks, having completed the three month retreat period, invite their fellows in the monastic life to offer constructive criticism of their behaviour. Although we tend to recoil from criticism, the Buddha considered it an invaluable element of the spiritual life, as exemplified in this quote from the Dhammapada:
‘Should one find a man who points out faults and who reproves, let him follow such a wise and sagacious person as one would a guide to hidden treasure. It is always better, and never worse, to cultivate such an association.’ *
The actual celebration of Pavarana Day will begin at 10:30 am with the taking of the Refuges and Precepts. Immediately after will be the alms-round, followed by a vegetarian meal. Once everyone has eaten, Khun Peter will lead the robe offerings, before Luangpor and Ajahn Manapo give Dhamma Talks. It should all be over by about 1:30 pm. As we anticipate a crowd of well over 100 we have arranged for our local luxury toilet hire firm (who, we found out on Tuesday, have been giving us a substantial discount all along) to provide us with extra facilities for the day.
All are welcome, so please feel free to come along, perhaps even bringing some vegetarian food to offer and share.
* Source: Access to Insight