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Andy Romanoff's Photographs of Abhayagiri

On August 29, 2015, photographer Andy Romanoff came to Ukiah make photographs of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas for his 15,000 Buddhas project. While there, he learned that Abhayagiri Monastery was only 35 minutes north and decided to visit. He spent a few hours here photographing Buddha images, almsbowls, and monk’s laundry. He kindly allowed us to post his photographs in our gallery (All images copyright Andy Romanoff).

Writing about his time at Abhayagiri in his blog, Andy describes:

“Sometimes the lights all shining on me…other times I can barely see…” a great Grateful Dead lyric, thank you Robert Hunter…and one I think about all the time. A few weeks ago I made pictures that felt good at the moment of their making and this week as I selected and finished them the feeling was still there. Seemed like the light was all shining on me.

One of the ways I know I’m in my zone is when I keep finding different ways to see the same thing and that was happening at the Abhayagiri Monastery in Redwood Valley, CA. I only spent a few hours there but every minute felt good - I kept seeing more….

That’s what I love about shooting icons. They don’t change - or at least not very fast. The light changes of course but what mainly changes is me. What I bring to it, what is revealed when I’m patient, what is really there but I don’t always see. The eyes are always looking but perception is a sometime thing…and that’s another song.

Writing about the 15,000 Buddhas project:

I find myself exploring at the place that art and religion come together, and that often means photographing icons.

All icons are focusing devices. They help us turn away from the everyday and towards our deeper self. When I gaze at an icon it is not necessarily to see its specific religious qualities, but rather to glimpse the intentions of its maker and its universal quality, its desire to take you out of yourself, to create wonder.

I think it means something more to see all these faces together in the same space, virtual or on the wall. While each image seen alone represents the attributes of a single icon, seen together they are recontextualized and perhaps the universal sacred impulse they embody becomes more visible. I believe it means something more to see all these faces together than separately.

People ask why I’ve put so much work into this project. Here’s a story I think explains. I was in Berlin, making pictures in a beautiful old church which is now a museum. It was an autumn afternoon and the light was slanting in through the high windows. Because it’s a museum the statues of the angels had been moved from their usual places high up in the air, down closer to eye level. I was wandering among the angels, looking at their faces when suddenly the great organ in the loft started making music. The organist had come to rehearse for a concert the next day. The music and the beauty of the surroundings and the light all combined to create rich and powerful feelings that opened my heart. For the next half hour I was “in…….church”, making pictures while transfixed with feeling. The short answer to “why” I make these pictures is because I find it rewarding to do so.

The 15,000 Buddhas Project continues, and Andy regularly posts his favorites in the Best of the 15,000 Buddhas Project gallery. All photographs from the 15,000 Buddhas Project and more can be seen in the Fine Art Photographs section. Prints of these photographs can be ordered from the galleries; the proceeds help Andy share the project and keep it going. Andy hopes to return to Abhayagiri in 2016 to make more photographs.

Community Work Days

The last two months of the year, we plan to have Community Work Days. Everybody is invited to come help with some important work projects that we hope to complete before the end of the year. There probably will be help needed in the kitchen and other lighter jobs, so there will be work available for people of all physical abilities.

Saturday, November 14th we plan to do some maintenance work on the road to Ajahn Pasanno’s cabin.

Saturday, December 12th will probably be forest work in the morning, and a deep clean of the kitchen in the afternoon.

November 14th Community Work Day

7:30 am work meeting (8:00 – 10:30 work period)
10:45 am meal
1:00 pm – 4:00 pm work period
4:30 pm tea
7:30 pm evening puja – chanting, meditation, and Dhamma talk

December 12th Community Work Day

7:30 am work meeting (8:00 – 10:30 work period)
10:45 am meal
1:00 pm – 4:00 pm work period
4:30 pm tea
7:30 pm evening puja – chanting, meditation, and Dhamma talk

New Buddha image arrives

The Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery welcomed the arrival of the new Buddha image that will eventually grace the new reception hall. The Buddha image arrived auspiciously on a wan phra (observance day). The shipping truck did experience some difficulty in trying to navigate the narrow and steep Tomki Road, which leads to our upper parking lot. Due mostly to generous help from some neighbors, we were able to get the delivery truck safely to the monastery and unloaded.

Along with the Abhayagiri Buddha image, we also received the new Buddha image for the Portland Friends of the Dhamma, a life size fiberglass image of Ajahn Chah, a medium sized wooden Buddha image, over a hundred boxes of smaller Buddha images, plus close to a hundred boxes of books.

We at Abhayagiri are incredibly grateful. Many people in Thailand helped, in so many ways, to make these offerings possible. We would also like to express our anumodana to Ajahn Achalo for overseeing the creation of the Buddha image, and for his skill and meticulous care in creating the perfect Buddha image for our new reception hall.

We have created a web gallery showing the arrival of the Buddha image and the setting of it up in the temporary shrine. You can view this galley by using this link:

Buddha image arrives

Abhayagiri Kathina: November 1, 2015

Each year since the time of the Buddha, at the end of the three-month Rains Retreat, the lay community around every Buddhist monastery has gathered to celebrate the completion of the retreat and to offer to the monastic community gifts of cloth and supplies that will be useful for the coming year. The cloth is then cut, sewn and dyed by the monks to make a robe on that day to offer to one of the Saṅgha. This 2,500-year-old tradition is still carried on here in the West in the Theravadan monasteries. It is initiated by a lay supporter or a group of supporters who request to organize the preparation and formal offerings. It is both a significant and joyful occasion that, over time, has become emblematic of the richness of the relationship that exists between the lay people and the monastics. This relationship is characterized by deep bonds of friendship and commitment to mutual support. All year round, the monastery functions solely on offerings from the lay community.

Please plan on carpooling if possible. Parking is limited.

Please be here well in advance of the 10:45 am meal offering. Meal time is earlier because Daylight Savings Time begins Nov. 1.

Sunday, November 1st:

10:45 a.m. Meal Offering People are welcome to bring a dish to share.
1 p.m. Kathina Ceremony Refuges, Precepts and Dhamma Talk.

This year we are fortunate to have Ajahn Viradhammo, abbot of Tisarana Monastery in Canada, and Ajahn Jayanto, abbot of Temple Forest Monastery in New Hampshire, attending our Kathina. Ajahn Jayanto will give the talk on the Saturday night (October 31) before Sunday’s Kathina. Ajahn Viradhammo will give the talk in English at the Kathina ceremony after the offering of robe cloth in the afternoon. Ajahn Pasanno will give the afternoon talk in Thai on that day.

Additionally, Ajahn Viradhammo will give a talk at the Stanford University Humanities Center (Levinthal Hall) on Monday Nov 2 at 6:30 pm. Please visit https://hcbss.stanford.edu/events/venerable-ajahn-viradhammo-reflections-monastic-life-0 for more information.

Ajahn Viradhammo will also give the First Tuesday in Berkeley talk on Tuesday evening (Nov 3) at 7:30 pm, preceded by tea time Q&A at 5:00 pm. This event will take place as usual at the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery – see our website calendar for location and details.

Anyone who wishes to help can consult the Kathina Dana List.

For more information, please contact Catherine at AbhayagiriKathina@gmail.com or (415) 595-7050.

Forest Practice Month

Forest Practice Month

The senior monks at Abhayagiri were meeting recently, discussing several important jobs that need attention. One project is trail maintenance. The 2.5 mile long “Loop Trail” has been in existence for over 10 years and has had many repairs and improvements done to it, but in many places the trail surface is getting unevenly worn. Another important job is creating fire breaks / defensible space around all our buildings, structures, and roads.

An interesting proposal is to do something similar to what the community at Chithurst Buddhist Monastery does in England. They do a practice called Forest Work Month, where several people volunteer to take on a project for three or four weeks. These volunteers would work alongside several of the monastic community members. It could be set up so the entire crew would live (sleep, eat, work and practice meditation) in the forest, but this would depend on the individuals and the weather conditions. This practice would not require any great skills in forestry practice, but a willingness to work 6 – 7 hours a day, adhere to the eight precepts, have some familiarity with the monastic lifestyle and an on-going meditation practice are essential.

We are thinking of trying something like this starting in mid-April 2016. The current idea is to do two, ten day work periods. People could come for one or both periods. The first session we are planning to work along side the monks of Mt Tabor monastery (our Christian neighbors to the north). We share a dirt road along the ridge and the section of the road that is on Abhayagiri’s property is in much need of maintenance, mainly clearing dead brush and slightly widening the path. Father Damien the abbot at Mt Tabor, has several volunteers lined up to help (they are retired fire fighters from Sonoma County) and several of the monks from their community will join in the work too.

The second work period possibly will be working on the Loop Trail.

Part of this practice will focus of daily reflections, teachings, group sittings and time for solitude. One idea is to take a theme like the 10 perfections and use one of the perfections each day.

If this type of practice sounds interesting to you, please write to the for details using the contact form. Please mention the term “Forest Practice” in your message.

http://www.monksofmttabor.com/

Dhamma Art - Gifts from Those Living in Prison

Recently, a hand-drawn picture was the focus of attention at the monk’s office of Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery.

Hand-drawn charcoal sketch

It’s a highly detailed pencil drawing featuring Buddha images, stupas, and a relatively youthful-looking Luang Por Chah and Luang Por Sumedho. It was attracting its share of admiration…but some people wanted to know, “Who drew this?” After some discussion, it was found out that the picture originated in connection with Abhayagiri’s book request program.

Abhayagiri regularly receives requests for free-distribution Dhamma books. The requests are sent via the Internet and by postal mail. Nearly all the requests by postal mail, about five per week, originate from people serving time in correctional facilities across the United States. As of 2013, approximately 1% or over 2.2 million people in the United States are incarcerated and most do not have Internet access.

Tim, one of the volunteers with the book request program, estimates that Abhayagiri receives about two unsolicited pieces of art per year coming from prisoners. “They never come from people who identify as artists or anything like that. They’re just part of the letter for more books, or as a follow-up letter. They never explain it, nor does there seem to be any particular pattern.”

Wood carving

Tim’s partner, Nook, also volunteers with the book request program. “It’s amazing to do this…I’m very honored to do this,” said Nook. “I don’t know how many people think about or are aware of what goes on in prisons.”

Both Tim and Nook started volunteering back in 2012, working under the guidance of the late Iris Landsberg who was the main book request volunteer and had worked in that role for over 10 years. “One day, I saw Iris working alone,” said Nook, “and so I just said, ‘can I help?’ Later I got Tim to help out too.”

Being a book request volunteer requires practice and attention to detail, but Iris made it fun too. “We just liked to laugh a lot and make jokes,” said Nook. “Iris would also do all these dance poses too. She seemed really happy doing the requests.”

Usually the requests from people living in prison are not for specific titles, but are rather more general requests or desiring help with one particular theme or topic.

Tim remembered one individual who expressed that he was in solitary confinement for several years. “I thought about his situation and then put together a package with books by Luang Ta Maha Boowa. He came to mind for his fortitude, stamina, and bravery, which I felt would be needed by anybody in solitary confinement.”

Buddha & Tigers

The book volunteers communicate anonymously with the prisoners and take care not to reveal personal information about themselves. Nook also stressed that the volunteers “don’t offer any help or try to teach Dhamma; we just send the books.” But sometimes they offer practical advice when it seems appropriate.

Tim recalled one woman who wished to set up a Buddha altar and was asking the book volunteers for help. Her situation was complicated by the fact that she was living in a small cell along with another inmate. Tim and Nook sent her a picture of a Buddha image and wrote back saying to put it up, along with other objects of inspiration, whenever her cellmate was not around. “She later wrote us back thanking us – she had no idea that it was okay for the altar to be temporary!”

The book requests can also be complicated. Tim explained that there is “a large document that details every book we send, which person it goes to, etc. There are also different rules and regulations for each prison. For example, some prisons only allow soft cover books.”

Nook added, “Almost all the addresses are handwritten and it’s really hard to read them sometimes.”

After a while, Iris had confidence in Tim and Nook and so they started to take over the book mailings. Tim recalled that, “all this happened not too long before her health really started to take a dive and she was diagnosed with cancer.” Iris passed away in February 2014 due to complications resulting from cancer.

Sometimes prisoners send stories and updates about their practice, or things going on in their community. Some keep in communication for many years.

Newsletter

Nook remembered one individual who, when he was being released, left all his books back in prison except one. “He kept The Island because he said it was the best book.”

Some people complete their incarceration sentence and continue to send requests for more materials. Tim remembered one man who was serving a 24-year sentence and had been requesting books from Abhayagiri for the last eight years of that sentence. “As he was leaving the prison, he was told that he couldn’t take his bag of Dhamma books as it was against the prison policy to take too many bags, so he had to leave the bags of books behind. So after he was released from prison, he sent us a request, but this time for CDs, not books. The reason he wanted CDs was because he never heard a Dhamma talk before and wanted to hear one for the first time.”

New Photo Albums Posted

Some new photo albums have been posted on the website, including more photos from Luang Por Liem’s visit to Abhayagiri in early July. Other postings include the Spirit Rock teen weekend, Luang Por Pasanno’s 66th birthday, Ajahn Karunadhammo’s 60th birthday, and the annual Yosemite trip. So, check out the gallery section. Enjoy!

A Day of Sharing in the City

On August 23, six Abhayagiri residents and fifty lay supporters gathered at the Mindfulness Care Center in San Fransisco for a day of sharing. Rik Center, founder of the Mindfulness Care Center, had organized the event as an opportunity to recollect the history of Abhayagiri, to reflect on the blessings that the monastery has brought to people’s lives, and to support Abhayagiri’s ongoing development. Ajahn Pasanno began the day by reflecting on the importance of the forest as a refuge from the city and the mutual interdependence of the lay and monastic communities. The monastics led chanting followed by a guided meditation from Ajahn Pasanno reflecting on the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha as internal refuges and qualities of the awakened heart. The lay community then recommitted themselves to the Three Refuges and Five Precepts. Following the precept ceremony, Ajahn Pasanno gave a longer talk reflecting on the lack of separation between Dhamma practice and “the real world.” The morning concluded with the traditional meal offering to the Sangha provided by the event participants.

The afternoon began with a slideshow depicting the ongoing construction of the new Reception Hall. Next, an open microphone session provided the opportunity for many laypeople to reflect upon the meaning Abhayagiri Monastery and the Thai Forest Tradition has in their lives. Several participants mentioned that Abhayagiri feels like a safe refuge in midst of a confused and confusing world. Ajahn Pasanno was particularly touched that supporters who visit the monastery only infrequently still feel strongly connected to this community. The day concluded with a closing reflection by Ajahn Pasanno and a final community meditation sit. The donations at the end of the day contributed $12,000 towards finishing the interior of the Reception Hall.

Recordings of the event

Practicing Together in the City (opening talk)

Chanting

Reflecting on the Refuges (guided meditation)

Drawing Close (Dhamma talk)

Photo gallery of the event

Ongoing construction photographs

A Day of Peace: Yoga and Meditation Daylong Oct. 4

Ajahn Pasanno and Cator Shachoy will lead a day of meditation and yoga Sunday, October 4 from 9 am to 5 pm at the Mindfulness Care Center in San Francisco. This is a benefit event for Youth Yoga Dharma. The day begins with meditation led by Ajahn Pasanno, followed by a 2-hour yoga class with Cator. Lunch break from 12-1:30 pm includes a traditional meal offering. Please bring a food offering to share with Ajahn Pasanno and others. The afternoon will include sitting and walking meditation, dharma reflections, Q&A. This retreat is open to anyone with an interest in yoga & meditation. No previous experience is necessary. No advance registration is required; just show up for the day. See the event flyer for more details.

Venue:

Mindfulness Care Center
42 Gough Street SF, CA 94103
(415) 503-1971

mindfulnesscare.org

20th Anniversary Celebration–Hold the Date

Abhayagiri will be celebrating its 20th anniversary on Saturday June 4, 2016. We plan to have an all-day gathering, including talks, photographs of the “old days,” and just general visiting with friends old and new. More details will be forthcoming closer to the event, but please put the date on your calendar if you would like to be part of the celebration.