Life at Abhayagiri is rooted in the daily schedule of the monastery. The schedule provides a consistent pattern for residents, integrating individual practice into the rhythms of community life.
Most community members begin their day between 3:00 and 4:00 am, awakening from sleep in their individual dwelling places, which are dispersed throughout the forest. This early morning time is usually used for a general clean-up inside and outside of our dwellings as well as for sitting or walking meditation, chanting, study, yoga, qi gong or other activities that members of the community do by themselves. As 5:00 am approaches, the monastics and guests hike down from their various dwelling places and converge at the Dhamma hall near the bottom of the mountain in the monastery cloister. In the summertime, the morning and evening gatherings occur on a large outdoor meditation platform at the top of the mountain (where most of the monastic dwellings are located).
Morning pūjā begins in the Dhamma hall or on the mediation platform at 5:00 am. Offerings of candles and incense are made and traditional bowing to the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha is performed, followed by 15 to 20 minutes of chanting in English and Pali (the language of the Theravada Buddhist suttas). After the chanting is completed, the community meditates together for one hour. Once the mediation is over, a short reflection is chanted, and the community bows again to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha as well as to the most senior monk present.
Around 6:30 am, we step out of the meditation hall or walk down the mountain from the meditation platform and begin a morning chore period, focusing on cleaning and maintaining the main monastery buildings in the cloister and their immediate surroundings.
At 7:00 am, a simple breakfast of porridge is served and at 7:30 am we meet together to plan for the day’s three hour work period. There is often work to be done in the forest, such as shaping trails and maintaining buildings and infrastructure. There is also work involved with preparing the day’s meal, office duties and administration. The work period provides the monastic community and visitors an opportunity to serve the sangha with generosity and also brings practices such as mindfulness and right speech into daily tasks. At the end of the morning meeting the community takes a few moments to pause and listen to a Dhamma reflection by the abbot or one of the other senior teachers.
Around 10:30 am, the work period ends and everyone comes back to the cloister area to tidy up and prepare for the meal. The meal is then offered at 10:45 am (or 11:00 am during daylight savings time). In accordance with the monastic discipline prescribed by the Buddha, monks are offered food each day by lay supporters. The monks are not allowed to eat anything that is not offered nor eat after midday. These rules ensure that the monastic sangha and lay community are brought together in daily interdependence.
After receiving the meal offering into their alms bowls, the monks return to the Dhamma hall where they chant a meal blessing and then eat in silence. Any visitors to the monastery are welcome to eat the meal with the monks in the Dhamma hall or wherever is convenient around the cloister area. After the meal is finished, bowls and dishes washed and the kitchen cleaned, individuals hike up the mountainside, returning to their dwelling places to continue individual practice.
At 5:30 pm, some of the monastics descend the mountainside for evening tea in the cloister. During this time, the abbot or other senior monks sit in the Dhamma hall to speak with visitors and answer any questions they may have.
After teatime, the community prepares for evening pūjā at 7:00 pm. The pūjā and meditation is conducted as it was in the morning, either in the Dhamma hall or on the meditation platform. After the sitting, community members return up the mountainside to their dwelling places in the forest.
On Sunday, there is an afternoon program begining with pūjā at 2 pm, followed by a one hour meditation and a 45 minute Dhamma talk. Tea is served 4:30 pm on Sunday, and there is no evening program.
Each week there is one Observance Day (Wan Phra), when the schedule is reduced to provide for quiet contemplation. The monks go on alms round in the morning and the only other activities of the day are morning chores, breakfast, and the main meal. At 7:30 pm, the community gathers for pūjā, meditation, the taking of the precepts by the laity and a Dhamma talk. From 10:00 pm until 3:00 am, the community sits and walks together in the cloister area, followed by morning chanting at 3:00 am. The following day (the day after Wan Phra) has an open schedule for rest and continued contemplation and solitude.
As this daily routine unfolds, it allows us to align our formal meditation practice with our practice of mindfulness in everyday tasks, to draw the wholesome qualities which we develop in our meditation practice into our conduct and relations with each other, and to bring together the cultivation of generosity, virtue, and meditation.