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Line Trimming, Staining and 1300 pound Batteries

During the last day in May, the whir of not one, not two, but five different line trimmers were heard at Abhayagiri as Samaneras Jotimanto and Dhammavaro, Anagarikas Josh and Bret and Ying Lin all began the morning work period assigned to cutting back the long grasses that have grown from the abundant rain of the past spring and winter. Cutting the grass down accomplishes various purposes, including improving the tidiness and overall beauty of the monastery. However, given the fires in 2017 which burned up to the Abhayagiri property, the greatest motivation with regard to line trimming is to increase fire safety. Considering that the monastery property encompasses some 280 acres, reducing the fire risk for Abhayagiri is no small task. Nevertheless, the community, in cooperation with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection aka CAL FIRE as well as guests, friends and supporters of the monastery, has been making various efforts to increase Abhayagiri’s fire safety.

Another Abhayagiri work project this spring has been staining the walls and porches of various huts (kutis). In addition to improving the aesthetics of the huts, staining extends the life of the wood. Less visible is the ongoing upkeep of the monastery’s IT infrastructure, which although challenging to maintain, allows you to read this article as well as serving many other purposes, such as allowing Abhayagiri to accept and manage reservations for overnight guests at the monastery. In addition to the resident monastics, various friends of the community, living near and far also help make available Dhamma talks, Dhamma reflections, photo galleries, news items, current events and other content on the Abhayagiri website.

A more unusual and physically demanding work project this past spring was replacing the 800 pound batteries for the upper monastery electricity system. Since this part of the monastery is not connected to the public electricity grid, the upper monastery electricity has been maintained by an array of solar panels and four giant rechargeable batteries. With time, the batteries have degraded and so recently, with the help of long-time friend and solar energy professional, Dick Jordan aka “Paco”, a number of monastics helped to remove the 800 pound batteries and replace them with even larger 1300 pound batteries. On the day of the battery swap, the work began around 1pm and the last three workers, Ajahn Ñāṇiko, Ajahn Kassapo and Paco finally descended to the cloister around 8pm, satisfied that the electricity for the upper monastery was once again working.

And the line trimming continues …

Update: Tudong 2019

On June 28, 2019 Ajahn Sek, Ajahn Ñāniko and Tan Tissaro returned safely to Abhayagiri, having been away for almost three weeks. During their traditional wandering pilgrimmage they encountered a great deal of support, curiosity, generosity, and kindness.

See photos
Listen to Ajahn Ñāniko’s talk on the tudong

A Majjhima in Thailand

After completing five years of monastic training as a monk under the supervision of one’s home monastery, a monk is thereafter referred to as a majjhima “middle”, denoting the period when one has at least five vassa but less than ten. Majjhima monks will often take the opportunity to practice in other environments. In 2014, after his fifth Rains Retreat as a monk, Tan Kovilo asked permission from Luang Por Pasanno to explore life and training in Thailand. On the plane to Thailand, Tan Kovilo aspired to three goals for his time in Thailand: become fluent in the Thai language, take the opportunity to serve as an attendant to respected senior monks, and make a point to try to be of service to Ajahn Kevali (abbot of Wat Nanachat), Ajahn Siripanyo (abbot of Wat Dao Dum), and the other senior monks in our tradition in Thailand. Upon enthusiastically telling Luang Por Pasanno about his plans, Luang Por chuckled and said, “and goal number 4: learn how to meditate!”

 

With the help of many Thai and European monk friends, T. Kovilo has made progress in his Thai Language study, including passing the three levels of the basic Dhamma exams (Nak Tham) in Thai. One highlight of Tan Kovilo’s time in Thailand was the opportunity to live for many months with Luang Por Piak - one of Luang Por Chah’s senior disciples and abbot of Wat Fakram in Pathumthani, Thailand. Tan Kovilo also spent time at Wat Pah Nanachat, the International Forest Monastery for Westerners, supporting Ajahn Kevali and the local community. In addition to trying to be of service at Wat Nanachat, Tan Kovilo is also grateful for having the opportunity to serve as editor-and-chief in the production of Ajahn Jayasaro’s biography of Luang Por Chah, “Stillness Flowing.” The year-plus working on that project, living alone in a small hut in close proximity with Ajahn Jayasaro, was one of the best years of his life.
 

As for goal number 4 … it is still in process.

 

After spending one year in America, predominantly at Abhayagiri and the Pacific Hermitage, Tan Kovilo will be returning to Thailand this July, this time to stay at the Thai branch monastery of the Burmese meditation master Pa Auk Sayadaw.

A Glimpse of the Pacific Hermitage

Recently, The Columbian published an article, with photos, about the Pacific Hermitage and its involvement with the local community.

The monks of White Salmon

Most Recent Talks Available on Abhayagiri You Tube Channel

The most recent Abhayagiri Dhamma talks are generally available on the Abhayagiri YouTube Channel. However, due to various reasons, including technical difficulties, there may be a significant delay before these talks are on the Abhayagiri website. If you wish to access them as soon as possible, please click on this link to the Abhayagiri YouTube Channel.

Four Days at Dharma Realm Buddhist University

In April of 2019 two Abhayagiri monks accepted an invitation to spend some time at Dharma Realm Buddhist University (DRBU), which is located at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (CTTB). CTTB is a large Chinese Mahayana monastery and community in the nearby town of Ukiah. Abhayagiri and CTTB have maintained a connection since Abhayagiri’s beginning. The Venerable Master Hsuan Hua was the founder of both CTTB and DRBU. In 1995, shortly before his death, he offered about half of the land that eventually became Abhayagiri.

This recent invitation to DRBU came about as the result of a series of discussions and inquiries between some of the Campus Life staff of DRBU and our community. DRBU’s mission involves not only educating their students in the traditional Western sense, but also providing an environment for personal growth and self-reflection in a wider sense. To these ends, DRBU has adopted some themes from the Buddhist tradition, especially regarding personal codes of conduct and an integrated approach to studying texts and introspection. These themes are shared with the Thai Forest Tradition and with Abhayagiri’s training culture specifically.

The only educational curriculum required of Abhayagiri monastics is our annual review of the monk’s training rules. Although formal study of the rules is limited to a series of two-hour classes attended by the monastic community each Vassa (July through October), the monastic training program is both rigorous and broad, touching every aspect of life here at the monastery. Because Abhayagiri is loosely connected with the wider Buddhist monastic tradition, we also have a sense for how our training style relates to the many styles and lineages of training in the broader tradition.

Master Hua was very supportive of monastics obtaining formal education. In fact, this was a key part of his vision, and for a period of time the Master Hua required all of his monastics to have a bachelor’s degree. He felt that an educated Sangha would both have a better grasp of the teachings (especially if the orthodox teachings of Buddhism were part of the curriculum) as well as be more familiar with the wider scholastic and cultural trends. This would enable a well-trained monastic to communicate and model the teachings more effectively to the wider populace. However, integrating spiritual practice and formal education is not an easy task.

The purpose of the invitation was primarily for the DRBU Campus Life staff to talk with Abhayagiri monastics and learn from our lifestyle and training. The current Western models of education and training are not geared towards monastics or spiritual practice in the traditional Buddhist sense. The needs of monastics differ from those of a typical student and sometimes the nature of those differences are hard to communicate and it may not be culturally appropriate to do so. By setting up a deliberate dialogue between monastics not currently attending the university, the Campus Life staff sought to learn about the ways monastics can be supported, as well as the possible difficulties.

Even for the students who are not inclined towards formal monastic training, the lifestyle at DRBU can be quite challenging. The DRBU Code of Conduct asks more of students than similar codes at most other Western campuses. Even though students knowingly take on the Code of Conduct, the implications and personal challenges that play out over the course of a two- or four-year program can be daunting. The challenges faced by the students at DRBU are strikingly similar to those faced by trainees at Abhayagiri. To thrive at DRBU or Abhayagiri, one needs to re-learn some basic relationships to authority, ethical precepts, and community life. Monastics training at Abhayagiri have lots of experience making the most of this type of practice environment and were happy to offer insights and encouragement to the community at DRBU during their stay.

Registration Still Open for 2019 Monastic Annual Retreat


Update: As of Aug. 19th, 2019, the registration for the 2019 Monastic Retreat is remaining open as there is still space available.

Led by the Abhayagiri Community
December 6-15, 2019 at Applegate Retreat Center, Applegate, CA

Abhayagiri Monastery in Redwood Valley, California and the Sanghapala Foundation invite you to join Luang Por Pasanno, and others from the Abhayagiri Community for a 10-day retreat in December.

We will create a monastery environment during our time together, and we offer you this opportunity to explore the Dhamma in a setting that differs somewhat from a typical meditation retreat. We will all live the monastery life, following the Eight Precepts, taking only what is offered, and attempting to reflect on our every activity as part of our practice. This will include noble silence, morning and evening chanting, sitting and walking meditation, a work period, and daily Dhamma talks and teachings.

The retreat will be held from Friday afternoon, December 6th, through Sunday morning, December 15, 2019, at the Applegate Jesuit Retreat Center, near the Sierra foothills. It’s a beautiful, very private 350-acre center, nestled in California’s historic gold country. The closest airport is Sacramento, about 50 miles SW of the center.

Because of the length of this retreat and the adherence to the Eight Precepts, you must previously have sat at least one five-day meditation retreat. Retreatants are requested to attend the entire retreat, from registration time to the closing ceremony on Sunday morning at approx. 11am. The facility is accessible for people in wheelchairs. We are unable to accommodate special dietary or environmental needs. We will eat a hearty breakfast and, in keeping with this monastic tradition, the daily meal (vegetarian) is eaten before noon; there is no evening meal or use of kitchen. Incense and candles are used at the morning and evening chanting periods. Note that this is a double-occupancy rooming setup (there are only a few single rooms available for elders and those with serious medical conditions). This is a beautiful center with comfortable accommodations. Camping or trailers are not possible for our retreat.

The retreat will be offered solely on dana (freewill donations); there is no set fee.

Registration opens July 15th. Please note: no deposit refunds after October 31, 2019. Thank you for your understanding.

Into the Year — Spring at Abhayagiri

The flowers lining Abhayagiri’s trails opened almost overnight. As late March’s sun burnt off the mountain fog, blue bells of hound’s tongue and red tufts of indian paintbrush began to appear along the monks’ walk to and from the cloister, where they’d spent the previous three months practicing in silence. The end of winter retreat meant a return to a regular routine of working in the forest, caring for monastery buildings, and receiving guests. It meant fifty emails in the guest monk’s inbox from people hoping to visit. It meant a chance for the community to carry the benefits of silent practice into interaction with the world, and the honks of geese migrating north in the evenings. It meant spring.

From January until the end of March, Abhayagiri’s community withdrew from its usual duties and joined together in a schedule of formal meditation and silence. Such annual retreat represents a hallmark of the Buddhist tradition, which encourages its monastics to put forth a special effort in formal practice for three months every year while staying in one location. While this retreat traditionally occurs during the Indian monsoon, many Western monasteries use the winter months to pursue a similar ethic of practice. Weeks of full schedule, during which the community sits together in the meditation hall for sessions beginning at five am and finishing at eight pm, alternate with more open periods during which individuals have the opportunity to determine their own routine. Daily readings, Dhamma discussion, and an atmosphere of noble silence help support the internal work.

The quiet both catalyzes internal struggles and helps individuals in confronting them. One monk reflects, “Even if one is going through difficulties, either internally or with the schedule, when you have a large group of people keeping the basic attitude of the practice, the external environment helps support the introspective and calming internal environment, so you can process difficulties more easily even if it’s seemingly very turbulent.”

Even during periods when such intense practice proves difficult, members of the community understand it as an extraordinary gift, giving thanks particularly to the the winter retreat crew, who spend the winter months supporting and practicing alongside the monastics. Saying goodbye to such close friends represents one of the more poignant moments of the new year.

Pilgrimage

Frequently, monks finishing the annual retreat embark on the traditional monastic practice of wandering tudong, or pilgrimage. In previous years, monks have walked for weeks up the Pacific Coast, travelled down through the south of California, and even meandered along the curves of the Mississippi. One monastic explained the challenges of such practice in a country where Buddhism is just becoming established:

“As monastics, we don’t use money, can’t ask for food, can’t ask for lodgings, and can’t store food, so every day we have to go to an inhabited area and hope people feed us. One of the major practices of tudong is to give yourself over to the faith and generosity of perfect strangers. You’re depending on people noticing you, asking what the heck you’re doing, why you’re doing it, being inspired by that, and giving you some meager sustenance for the day. You’re throwing yourself into situations that are not in your comfort zone, and food, water, and your day-to-day experiences are unplanned and uncertain.”

On April 3rd, two Abhayagiri monks decided to shake off the inertia of the just-finished retreat by following the Buddha’s ancient footsteps into the country. In this case, they determined to walk an eighty-mile stretch of road from Windsor back up to Abhayagiri. One of the pair described the benefits he hoped to gain from their ten-day pilgrimage:

“Quite a lot of the monastic form is about having a degree of certainty regarding your schedule, who you’re practicing with, what food you’re getting, and you learn a lot from living within that structure. But going into an unstructured environment on a walk-about or tudong is another classroom — it provides different opportunities for learning. Going from a settled, highly-structured community straight into an environment where you’re living close to the elements and are uncertain about food provides a stark contrast, and it’s always in transitions and contrasts that we stand to learn the most. Hopefully, my practice on retreat is such that I will reap the benefits of that when living in a chaotic environment, and if I’m practicing correctly, the lessons learned and qualities developed during an uncertain journey will transfer back as benefits within a structured environment.”

Going-Forth

At the monastery, others determined to walk into a more profound unknown. Two laymen who stayed with the community for the past few months decided to ordain as anagārikas, or white-robed monastic postulants. The ceremony, which will take place on April 27th, represents one of the most significant moments in a spiritual aspirant’s life. One of the postulants, Josh Dultz, will be taking on white for his second time after several years away from the monastery. “It just feels right,” he laughed, “It feels like jumping into an abyss, but a very trustworthy abyss.”

A New Home

Apart from the potential for two new sprigs of white, the new year brought other changes. Having searched for a residence for aging monks over the past few years, Abhayagiri recently acquired a property directly across Tomki Road. The land of a long-time supporter, the purchase included a house, kuti, and pond, all situated in a grove of redwoods a two-minute walk from the monastery entrance. The property will serve as an important future home for elderly monks from Abhayagiri and elsewhere.

While the property’s appearance seemed a gift in its own right, the blessing quickly grew. Almost immediately after deciding to buy the property, the monastery learned that an anonymous donor wished to cover the entire cost of the purchase. In a matter of weeks, Abhayagiri was granted a boon it hadn’t imagined just a month before: an eventual home for its elders. The generosity served as a powerful reminder of the goodness that comes to places of practice and helped the community remember that they must work sincerely to be worthy of such gifts.

The Coming Year

Luang Por Pasanno’s coming return to the monatery in July represents another piece of bright news. Having entered the second half of his year-long sabbatical in Canada, Abhayagiri’s former abbot enjoyed his first Canadian winter in over forty years, despite one encounter with a moose. Debbie Stamp, Abhayagiri’s steward, reflected on his absence and coming return:

“The co-abbots are learning a lot. We have the foundation Luang Por set for us, and I think that’s what holds us. The vinaya, korwat, and how we’ve been trained by Luang Por and Ajahn Amaro really hold the foundations. But it’s not without challenges. Hopefully Luang Por will return in July and establish himself as the elder in residence. He’s still figuring out how to do that so that he gives the abbots the space they need — so that they still have that responsibility, but he’ll be around for giving talks, helping with the laypeople and with the monastics. He’ll be a steady presence to help shore things up.”

On Thai New Years, Songkran, held this year on April 14th, the monks and lay community will have the chance to bathe a Buddha image and the monastery elders’ hands in a traditional ceremony of reverence and renewal, gratitude for the year’s gifts and coming season. It will serve as a reminder that spring has again come to the mountain.

Winter Retreat 2019

The monastery will close for the three-month annual winter retreat on January 2, 2019 and re-open April 1st. During this time, the resident community takes time to engage in more formal meditation practice following a changing schedule of group and individual practice.

During these three months there will be no overnight guests accepted. (For overnight visits after the retreat please contact the monastery after April 1, 2019.) However, day visitors and those wishing to visit the monastery to participate in the meal offering or bring offerings of requisites at meal time are still welcome. It should be noted, however, that the community is practicing noble silence, and talking and conversations with the monastics and retreat crew are very limited.

We will continue to have the Saturday evening meditation and Dhamma talks (7 p.m. each Saturday) and the weekly lunar day observances, as on the website calendar.

For those interested in listening to or downloading Dhamma talks from the monastery website, we plan on posting new talks regularly throughout the retreat.

Weekly Sunday Program Moved to Saturday Evening & Other Schedule Changes

Beginning on Saturday December 15th, the monastery’s weekly Dhamma Talk and Puja, usually held at 2 pm Sunday afternoon, will be moved back to 7 pm Saturday evening. The monastery hopes that returning the weekly program to its original Saturday evening slot will prove more convenient for those hoping to join the community for the regular teachings, meditation, and chanting.

Additionally, the other weekly evening program held on lunar observance days will be moved from 7:30 to 7:00 pm starting on Saturday December 15th, helping those travelling from far away return home earlier and simplifying the monastery’s schedule by ensuring that all such gatherings take place at a uniform time.

Please consult our calendar for more details.