Autumn at Abhayagiri

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.

New Year's Eve and New Year's Day Gatherings at Abhayagiri

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.

Sunday, November 4th -- Bhikkhu Ordination Ceremony for Sāmaṇera Rakkhito ***Please Note Daylight Savings Time Change***

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.

Upcoming Teachings by Ajahn Amaro

Join us in welcoming one of Abhayagiri’s founding abbots this month. Ajahn Amaro, co-abbot of Abhayagiri from 1996 to 2010 and current abbot of Amaravati Monastery in England, will arrive at arrive at the monasteryi late on October 25 and fly out of the Bay Area on November 8. Details regarding his teaching engagements and general schedule can be found below and on the Abhayagiri calendar

Sunday, October 28: Abhayagiri Kathina
Tuesday, October 30: 7:15 pm program at Yoga Mendocino
Sunday, November 4: 2 pm Bhikkhu ordination of Sāmaṇera Rakkhito
Monday, November 5: 7:30 pm public talk at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas
Tuesday, November 6: First Tuesday program at Berkeley Buddhist Monastery
Wednesday, November 7: 6 pm talk at Stanford

2019 Monastic Thanksgiving Retreat

Please note that the 2019Thanksgiving Retreat, which would usually begin in late November, has been replaced by the Abhayagiri Annual Retreat taking place from December 6-15th at Applegate Retreat Center. We hope you’re still able to join us.

You may find more information here.

Refuge Under Smoke: August at Abhayagiri

Monks’ chanting rose into the warm July evening of Āsāḷha Pūjā to mix with the smoke that was just beginning to fill the Abhayagiri valley. Several miles away, fires that were to become the largest in California history roared through the parched madrone. In the year since the Redwood Valley Complex fire nearly consumed Abhayagiri, the scarred hills surrounding the monastery have served as a daily reminder of life’s unpredictability. The nearby Ranch and River fires this season have once again forced the community to recall the instability of their situation, and to appreciate and blessing of a monastery still safe. Tan Suhajjo, who was evacuated during the previous year’s fires considered:

It’s another great reminder. Many in the community were present here last October, so smelling the smoke and contemplating the nearby evacuations is very real and very visceral. Even though the monastery’s not at high risk from the Ranch or River Fires, still having that reminder encourages me to question how much I depend emotionally on the stability of the monastery. It is devastating that a firefighter just lost his life, and I’m sure that structures are being burned and people are being displaced. I try to use that as a reflection in terms of compassion, wishing them well and hoping they’re cultivating mental states that let them be okay. Like Ajahn Chah said, “When the flood comes and washes your house away, don’t let it wash your heart away too.” Don’t let the fire burn your heart as well as your house. Then you’ve lost everything, but we can still keep the most important part if we can keep the practice going.

The blackened hills of Redwood Valley now offer Abhayagiri a measure of security, serving as a break protecting the monastery from the 300,000-acre Mendocino Complex Fire. Although a silver haze of smoke hovers over the valley some days, it seems more than anything to help cool the dry August air. Despite the nearby fires, the monastery continues to follow its usual routine, deepening into the coolness of the annual Vassa retreat. Tan Suhajjo describes the purpose of the three-month period during which the Buddha advised the monastic community to remain in one residence and focus on formal practice:

Traditionally in South and Southeast Asian cultures, this was the monsoon season, so it was very difficult to travel or do regular work tasks, and it became a time to turn inward. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, this is the peak of the summertime, so it’s not exactly the same feeling. However, we do still use it as period of time for instruction around the traditional Vinaya, or monastic code, and to allow individuals to step out of the usual routine. Every resident at the monastery gets two weeks of solitude in the forest. The individual has the benefit of being able to step back from duties and reflect on how those duties are affecting them. When there’s a lot of work, there’s more noise in the system and it’s harder to listen to the mind. We can be getting into habits and cultivating mental states that we don’t have a lot of awareness around, so by taking these two weeks in the midst of a busy time to put down duties, the energies have a chance to echo through the heart and we can pay attention to those. Also, just having the presence of people on retreat while the rest of the community is engaged sets a wholesome tone and can be a gentle but powerful reminder that we cannot abandon that cultivation of the higher mind even in the midst of work.

The cool refuge of Abhayagiri, deepened during the period of retreat, provides not just an escape from August’s external fires, but from the blaze of consumerist culture. The Buddha’s third cardinal sermon, the Ādittapariyāya Sutta, given on a hill overlooking a burning forest, likened the mind’s craving to flame. “The Fire Sermon” describes not only the pain of such endless fever but also the path to Nibbana, literally “cooling.” The shade of Abhayagiri’s cool oaks draws those who sense clearly the heat of the city’s smoldering neon. Over the past months, several new members have joined the community with the hope of stepping into that shade for good. One of these new members speaks about the experiences that brought him to the monastery in hopes of ordaining:

I’ve lived a varied life trying to find peace and happiness out in the world and just seeing how trying to fulfill myself through the senses - through things and experiences - wasn’t doing it. I worked at a grocery co-op, in horticulture, and a nursery, and I can’t think of one thing that panned out exactly as I’d planned. Then, I came into contact with the Pali Canon through Bhikkhu Bodhi’s anthology, In The Buddha’s Words. At that time I was considering a Zen monastic life, but it totally changed my thinking. I started looking into the Therevāda tradition, and quickly found Ajahn Chah. It was love at first sight, first sound, first word, and then I discovered the disciples, the monastery, and Luang Por Pasanno. I was at a point in my life where I still had good health, wasn’t in a relationship or caught up in other commitments - so it seemed it was a good opportunity. Everything made sense and I felt right about it, so I went for it wholeheartedly. It’s hard. It’s not easy. Like Luang Por Pasanno says, “It’s not a fun lifestyle,” but I think maybe that was part of my problem out in lay life - everything had to be fun.

Simple and slow, life at the monastery provides a counterpoint to the world around it and the histories of those who come to it seeking refuge. It is not separated from culture it grows within, just as it is not isolated from the tragedy of the year’s fires. Smoke still wraps the mountain’s madrone and scattered pine. Still, the the community provides a center those with faith can return to, again finding balance in the midst of activity, coolness in the midst of heat, and peace in the midst of their lives.

Sunday, October 14th - Upāsikā Day: Remembering the October 2017 Fires: Dhamma Perspectives and Tools For Healing

We hope you can join us at Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery for the next Upasika Day on Sunday, October 14, a day of community, Dhamma study, meditation, and renewal.

This will be both part of the regular Upasika Day program, and a special day. Abhayagiri has accepted a request from the Mendocino-Rebuilding Our Community team of the Community Foundation of Mendocino County to participate in a week-long series of events dedicated to remembering and healing from the October, 2017 Redwood Complex fires. Our theme and topic for the day will be Practice in a Global Context - Remembering the October, 2017 Fires: Dhamma Perspectives and Tools for Healing. Ajahn Kaccana and Pesalo Bhikkhu have graciously offered to share their personal experiences of the fires, Dhamma reflections and practices they have found beneficial to themselves and the community in the past year.

Please note: Because this Upasika Day is part of the fire remembrance week activities, we anticipate that neighbors affected by the fires will attend and may share personal and sensitive stories. Out of concern and respect for their privacy, we have decided not to live-stream this Upasika Day.

Many of the readings for the day are freely available in translation by Thanissaro Bhikkhu through the below links. Additionally, they may be found in Wisdom Publication’s editions of each collection. The readings for the day include:

  1. Four Dhamma Summaries (two-thirds through MN 82: Raṭṭhapāla Sutta) available here: https://www.dhammatalks.org/suttas/MN/MN82.html
    Instability and dissolution are natural.

  2. SN 3.25: The Simile of the Mountains available here: https://www.dhammatalks.org/suttas/SN/SN3_25.html
    Experiencing or imagining disaster can align our priorities with Dhamma.

  3. Short discourses on the benefits of Metta (Khp 9 and AN 11.16) available here:
    https://www.dhammatalks.org/suttas/KN/Khp/khp9.html and https://www.dhammatalks.org/suttas/AN/AN11_16.html

  4. AN 5.162: The Subduing of Hatred available here: https://www.dhammatalks.org/suttas/AN/AN5_162.html
    Five reflections to maintain goodwill when it’s difficult.

  5. MN 28: The Great Elephant Footprint Simile available here:
    Reflecting on elemental disasters can reveal the not-self nature of the body. Maintaining goodwill and the not-self perception in harrowing circumstances can bring forth astonishing composure.

  6. Ajahn Chah: Our Real Home (Chapter 13, p. 145 in the Collected Teachings)
    “If your house is flooded or burnt to the ground, whatever the threat to it, let it concern only the house. If there’s a flood, don’t let it flood your mind. If there’s a fire, don’t let it burn your heart. Let it be merely the house, that which is outside of you that is flooded or burned.”

We hope you will also join us for the daily meal, beginning at 11:00
a.m. It’s customary to bring a dish to offer to the monastics and to
share with others. Our material support of the monastery community is
an important aspect of our role as upasikas (literally, “those who
sit close by”), and our generous offerings of food are a tangible
means of extending this support.

Attendance at Upasika Days is open both to those who wish to make a
formal commitment to the program and to those who may simply wish to
attend for the day. All are welcome. Please spread the word among
those who may be interested.

The schedule for the day is as follows:

10:45 a.m. Refuges and Precepts (optional)

11:00 a.m. (sharp) Meal Offering (please bring a dish to share)

1-4:30 p.m. Study/Practice Session

4:30 p.m. Tea with the monastics (optional)

For directions on getting to the monastery, please visit
www.abhayagiri.org. And if you’d like to carpool, please feel free to
utilize the “upasika@yahoogroups.com” email group as a means of
contacting others planning to attend.

The remaining Upasika Day date for 2018 is:
Saturday, December 1: Meditation: Reflections on Not-Self as a Contemplative Strategy

Upasika Day: Sutta Study: Samyutta Nikaya 1:1 Sunday, August 5

We hope you can join us at Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery for the next Upasika Day on Sunday, August 5, a day of community, Dhamma study, meditation, and renewal. The event will be livestreamed here.

Our theme and topic for the day will be Sutta Study: Samyutta Nikaya 1:1. Ajahn Karunadhammo and senior monastics of Abhayagiri have graciously offered to lead us in an exploration of the Buddha’s Middle Way, expressed in this very short sutta as “crossing the floods” by “not halting and not strainings (Bhikkhu Bodhi translation).”

The readings for the day include Samutta Nikaya 1:1, available in translation by Thanissaro Bhikkhu here: https://www.dhammatalks.org/suttas/SN/SN1_1.html. (Please also see Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation of Samyutta Nikaya 1:1 in The Connected Discourses of the Buddha. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2000.)
Also please read the short article, “A Verb for Nirvana,” by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, available here: https://www.dhammatalks.org/books/PurityOfHeart/Section0015.html

We hope you will also join us for the daily meal, beginning at 11:00
a..m. It’s customary to bring a dish to offer to the monastics and to
share with others. Our material support of the monastery community is
an important aspect of our role as upasikas (literally, “those who
sit close by”), and our generous offerings of food are a tangible
means of extending this support.

Attendance at Upasika Days is open both to those who wish to make a
formal commitment to the program and to those who may simply wish to
attend for the day. All are welcome. Please spread the word among
those who may be interested.

The schedule for the day is as follows:

10:45 a.m. Refuges and Precepts (optional)

11:00 a.m. (sharp) Meal Offering (please bring a dish to share)

1-4:30 p.m. Study/Practice Session

4:30 p.m. Tea with the monastics (optional)

2018 Abhayagiri Kathina: October 28, 2018

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.

Ajahn Amaro, co-abbot of Abhayagiri from 1996 to 2010 and current abbot of Amaravati Monastery in England, Ajahn Jayanto, abbot of Temple Forest Monastery, and Ajahn Sudanto, abbot of Pacific Hermitage will also be here for the ceremony. Details on Ajahn Amaro’s two-week visit and scheduled teachings may be found below.

Please plan on carpooling if possible. Parking is limited.

Please be here well in advance of the 11 am meal offering.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

  • 11 a.m. Meal Offering People are welcome to bring a dish to share.
  • 1:30 p.m. Kathina Ceremony Refuges, Precepts and Dhamma Talk by Ajahn Amaro.

Anyone who wishes to make offering for Kathina can consult the Kathina Dana List. If you plan to offer items from the dana list, please let us know so we can remove them from the dana list. This can be done by emailing XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. If you have questions about the Kathina or your offering, please call or email as well.

Because we expect many visitors and parking is limited, please carpool and plan to arrive with at least 3 (or more!) people in your vehicle. To offer a ride or seek a ride with others, please use this online tool: https://www.groupcarpool.com/t/abi7nd

If you would like to self-organize your own carpool, then Eagle Peak Middle School (8601 West Rd, Redwood Valley, CA 95470) is also available on Kathina Day as a place to meet up with others, safely park your car, and then carpool together for the final seven miles to Abhayagiri.

Ajahn Amaro’s Scheduled Teachings

Ajahn Amaro will arrive late on October 25th and leaving November 8th. His schedule is as follows:

Sunday, October 28: Abhayagiri Kathina
Tuesday, October 30: 7:15 pm program at Yoga Mendocino
Sunday, November 4: 2 pm Bhikkhu ordination of Sāmaṇera Rakkhito
Monday, November 5: 7:30 pm public talk at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas
Tuesday, November 6: First Tuesday program at Berkeley Buddhist Monastery
Wednesday, November 7: 6 pm talk at Stanford

For more details, please visit the Abhayagiri Calender

Cloister Area Inauguration a Big Success

This past weekend we celebrated the completion of our cloister area buildings and grounds. Dhamma talks were given by Luang Por Liem, Luang Por Viradhammo, Luang Por Jundee, Rev. Heng Sure, Ajahn Jayasaro, Ajahn Sona, and Ajahn Kongrit. As well as Luang Por Liem, Ajahn Sucitto, and Ajahn Achalo before and after the event. Many hundreds of people gathered over the long weekend and enjoyed several days of Dhamma talks, practicing meditation together, and sharing the fellowship of our extended community.

We wish to extend our gratitude to all who made this event, and this building, a very successful event, including Luang Por Liem and all of the senior monks from Thailand and North America, and Luang Por Pasanno and the Abhayagiri community.

We especially appreciate all of the extended lay community and volunteers who helped in so many ways: the many offerings, both material and financial, and the offerings of service during the ceremony itself. It takes a “village” to make something like this happen, from cooking to parking and everything in between.

Anumodana to all!