Recently, The Columbian published an article, with photos, about the Pacific Hermitage and its involvement with the local community.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Late October found the smoke that thickened Abhayagiri’s sky in August gone for clear autumn air, the three deer that usually roam the monastery’s garden replaced by hundreds of families visiting from the city. With the three-months annual Rains Retreat finished, the community’s wider family drew together on October 28th to celebrate the Kaṭhina ceremony. One monk explained:
“In traditional times, the three months of the monsoon season was a time for the early monastic communities to settle in one place. Anyone who has lived with a group of people knows that communal harmony doesn’t come easily. Diverse people spending time together in close quarters for a long period in harmony is a difficult and rare thing to find. The Kaṭhina ceremony is a celebration of that attempt at communal harmony, and is a chance for the laity and the sangha to cement their relationship — the laity providing gifts and material support and the sangha providing inspiration and a refuge.”
The Kaṭhina represented a chance for all those connected with the monastery to gather. Luang Por Amaro, who founded Abhayagiri over twenty years ago with Luang Por Pasanno, travelled from his current post as abbot of Amaravati Monastery in England to join in the festivities. Other senior monks, such as Ajahn Jayanto, abbot of New Hampshire’s Temple Forest Monastery and Ajahn Sudanto, abbot of Washington’s Pacific Hermitage, also flew in to be part of the celebration. While over twenty monastics came for the event, some of Abhayagiri’s supporters still felt anxiety at the prospect of a Kaṭhina with Luang Por Pasanno gone on retreat overseas. Corina, a regular guest, commented:
“I was concerned when he left. Although I’ve been here for a few years and seen how the work duties have been spread out and how capable everyone is, I just wanted to make sure everyone else knew as well and would continue to come. So, I was reassured that it was well-attended and smoothly run. The Kaṭhina’s a chance to see old friends — it’s a joy. Additionally, I enjoyed seeing the visiting Ajahns and listening to the talks. Here’s where I can speak about Ajahn Amaro. It was really nice to be able to talk with him after the Kaṭhina — just have a Q & A on the deck — and my partner, who hasn’t seen him since 2011 or so, was inspired to become more serious about practice and come up here more.”
Apart from sharing a meal, formally offering gifts to the Sangha, and listening to teachings, the several hundred people who attended October 28th’s event witnessed the traditional sewing of the Kaṭhina cloth. The monks worked together to quickly cut and sew offered cloth into a robe for an honored monk by the end of the day as a symbol of communal harmony. The ceremony finished late in the evening with Ajahn Sek Varapañño, a monk of over twenty-years from Thailand, quietly accepting the robe the community made him as a sign of their gratitude. Dyed with heartwood from the madrone blanketing Abhayagiri’s hills, the robe matched almost perfectly the other hand-sewn robe Ajahn Sek wears dyed with wood from Thailand’s jackfruit trees.
Following October’s Kaṭhina, Luang Por Amaro remained for two weeks, catching up with old students, giving teachings, and becoming familiar with the various changes to Abhayagiri. He spoke about the recently finished reception hall and cloister, and the absence of the old house that held the kitchen and office from when he founded the monastery in 1996 until 2017. Most often, however, he ended his talks praising the new generation of monastics that have stepped forward to lead the community in his and Luang Por Pasanno’s absence. “The strong, new shoots of green,” he commented, “have begun to grow up through the old.”
While Ajahn Karuṇadhammo smiled wryly at being referred to as a “new shoot of green”, he and Ajahn Ñāṇiko have stepped into their roles as co-abbots with energy. Apart from overseeing the completion of the Reception Hall, cloister, and the accompanying ceremonies, they have worked to accommodate growing interest in ordination. Never before have so many young men come to the monastery with hopes of taking on robes. November featured, not just the full ordination of Tan Rakkhito, but the going-forth of one of the monastery’s four white-robed postulants into the intermediate stage of novice. Anagārika Jordan, now Sāmaṇera Jotimanto, spoke about coming to train at Abhayagiri:
“When I first encountered Buddhism, I was in college and had a lot of spiritual inclinations, but I kept them to myself because they were against cultural norms. One example is drinking or drug use. In college I was in a milieu that supported these things, but when I encountered Buddhism, I saw an institution and doctrine which supported these feelings I’d been having. That gave me confidence in myself because I was no longer just an oddball trying to feel my way in the darkness. I just think about the life I would probably be living if I weren’t here. It would be fine I’m sure, but I wouldn’t be a real example of human potential if I just lived the life I was living. I feel like here, we’re a profound example of goodness in the world that doesn’t exist in very many places. I think it’s good to have people who represent counter-cultural values who can, at the very least, show us that it’s okay to go against the stream of society.”
With ceremonies completed and Luang Por Amaro gone, the monastery draws inward in anticipation of the three-month winter retreat. From the beginning of January until April, members of the community put aside their usual duties and re-orient towards formal meditation practice. One monk comments:
Kaṭhina’s the end of our busy season. With all the ceremonies and visiting teachers we’ve had, this year has been truly wonderful, but I think the community’s really looking forward to winter retreat. It’s an important counter-balance to the ceremonies. When the weather starts turning cool and wet, it’s an encouragement for us to go to look inwards for warmth and spaciousness.
Monks use the quiet of retreat to experiment with various austerities as a means of deepening their meditation. Even in the winter months, some choose to continue living outside in the wilderness instead of one of the monastery’s small huts. One monk, who’s lived in the forest for over a year, speaks to the practice of dwelling at the foot of a tree:
“One of the major benefits is that it helps with the traditional elements contemplation. When you’re cooped up in a heated building, it’s difficult to experience the body in its natural state being subject to the varieties of weather. When one spends time outdoors, one has to pay attention to such natural conditions as wind and rain. Living simply doesn’t automatically mean being miserable, but what it does mean is that to not be miserable — to not be wet and cold — you need to pay attention to those things; to know how to set up an appropriate shelter, and enter without getting your things soaked. For someone like myself who spent most of his former life living indoors behind computers screens, it opens up new aspects of your mind and practice. There’s also a sense of wholesome pride in being able to live comfortably in a harsh environment, and those skills transfer directly into formal practice in terms of calming and controlling the mind.”
Such practices exemplify a monastic tradition that embeds itself in the natural environment. Just as the monastery’s acorn woodpeckers begin to quiet in anticipation of the winter months, the year’s activity settles into the stillness of winter retreat. As a year of departures and new arrivals ends, and the community finds itself again moving back towards a center of silence and simplicity.
Come celebrate New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day at Abhayagiri Monastery. On New Year’s Eve, Monday the 31st, there will be an evening program featuring meditation, a Dhamma talk, and chanting until midnight. The following morning, Tuesday January 1st, Abhayagiri will welcome the new year with a ceremonial almsround at the monastery, meal, and post-meal Dhamma Talk. Apart from celebrating the New Year, the ceremony represents the last large gathering at Abhayagiri before the monastics enter their three-month winter retreat.
December 31 (New Year’s Eve)
7:00 pm – Evening Puja and Dhamma Talk
9:00 pm to 11:30pm – Walking or Sitting Meditation
11:30 pm – Paritta Chanting
12:01 am – Sharing the Merit
January 1 (New Year’s Day)
10:00 am – Ceremonial almsround at the monastery, food offering, and meal.
12:30 pm – Dhamma Talk by Ajahn Ñāṇiko, co-abbot of Abhayagiri.
Please see the Abhayagiri calendar for more details.
* For the ceremonial almsround on January 1st, please offer any kind of rice (white, brown, etc). Dry goods and other requisites can be placed on the Dana Table to be offered to the monks. Cooked food will be offered to the monks in the kitchen at 10:45 am. Please do not put money, checks, or canned foods into the monks’ bowls.
All are welcome to attend the formal ceremony in which the Sāmaṇera Rakkhito will enter the monastic Saṅgha as a bhikkhu on Sunday, November 4th. The ceremony will take place in the new Dhamma Hall and will begin at 2 pm.
Please note that Daylight Savings Time ends that morning, meaning all clocks are turned back one hour.
Please see our calendar for more details.