Sometime in the spring of , we will be launching a new audio talks digital archive that will be fully interactive and searchable by speaker, year, retreat, keywords, tags and more. In the meantime we hope you find the small selection of audio teachings in the Featured Talks page useful. We will try and upload a few more talks given during the Winter retreat. Meet at the workshop 1.
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The book was not originally conceived purely as a collection of talks on Buddhism, but as textual and pictorial representation of Chithurst Buddhist Monastery.
Hence, some narrative pieces are included. He had not seen them since leaving America in , weary of the West and drawn by an interest in Chinese studies and Eastern religion to volunteer for service with the Peace Corps in Sabah, Borneo.
World-weariness and an interest in Eastern religion have a way of breeding good bhikkhus, and it was not long before he became Sumedho bikkhu [See Note 1] living under the guidance of a meditation teacher, Venerable Ajahn Chah, in a forest monastery in Ubon Province, Thailand.
Time flowed by with its own teaching: one who endured the hardships and trials of the dhutanga monasteries [See Note 2] naturally acquired inner strength and patience, even without the sometimes aggravating, sometimes playful, and frequently awe-inspiring teaching methods of a master such as Ajahn Chah.
Ajahn Chah, with compassion and notorious humour, would tease and frustrate his disciples out of their self-conceit, and those who really wanted to be delivered from their selfishness placed themselves, resignedly at first, but eventually with gratitude and devotion, under his guidance for a minimum period of five years.
After seven Rains [See Note 3] , Sumedho was allowed to go off on his own, and he wandered in India for five months, keeping to the strict Vinaya training of dhutanga bhikkhus — no money, no storing of food, and one meal per day, to be eaten out of the alms bowl before noon.
Somehow in India, living on faith, it worked, and the respect for the tradition that this instilled in Venerable Sumedho encouraged him to return to Ajahn Chah and offer himself up, body and mind, to serve his teacher. After having made the necessary initial mistakes, he became the Ajahn of a monastery that has since developed into something of a showpiece in the forest tradition. Thai people — local villagers at first, and subsequently more cosmopolitan folk from Bangkok — were impressed by the presence of Western bhikkhus who had given up the wealth, university education and conveniences of Europe and America to live a sweat-soaked life that was austere, even by the rustic tastes of North-East Thailand.
More importantly, within a couple of years the modest foundation of four bhikkhus swelled to a sizeable group of bhikkhus, samaneras, por kaos and maechees [See Note 4].
Ajahn Maha Boowa, like Ajahn Chah, stressed the importance of meditation, Vinaya and simplicity of life-style, and he also had a very fine forest monastery in North-East Thailand. The English Sangha Trust, the stewards and owners of the Vihara, had been established in with the express aim of providing a suitable residence for bhikkhus in England.
By , this aim had not been achieved, and it was time to consider why. There were numerous views and opinions on this matter, but the chairman was drawn to consider the nature of the environment and the life-style of the bhikkhus.
Several of the incumbents had been gifted Dhamma teachers, but none of them had experience of the traditional bhikkhu life, with its training conventions and mendicant relationship with the laity. So Mr. Sharp went out to North-East Thailand himself to visit the forest monasteries and make a further request to the two meditation teachers to send forest bhikkhus to England.
Ajahn Chah, however, decided to visit in , and when he came he brought Ajahn Sumedho with him. The daily life was conducted in a manner that was based on the monastic routine of the forest monastery, with morning and evening chanting, a daily alms round [pindapada] and instruction to lay visitors to the Vihara. It was not an easy time for the bhikkhus — apart from culture shock and the sudden cramping of their environment, there was a lot of confusion as to the role of the Vihara, and how the tradition was to be altered, if at all, to fit English conditions.
Perhaps in this country it was not appropriate to live in forests at all. This jogger had acquired an overgrown forest in West Sussex called Hammer Wood, out of the wish to restore it to its former glory — but he also understood that this was work for more than one man and one lifetime. Although not a Buddhist, he had the openness of mind to appreciate that an order of forest monks might be the perfect wardens for his woodland. Subsequently, he attended one of the ten-day meditation retreats that Ajahn Sumedho held at the Oaken Holt Buddhist Centre near Oxford, and later made an outright gift of the forest to the Sangha.
Early in Ajahn Chah was invited to England to see how his disciples were making out; it was also about this time that George Sharp, hearing that a large house near Hammer Wood was up for sale, agreed to purchase it. This was Chithurst House, and its purchase was a gamble that did not meet with unanimous approval. Buying the property had necessitated selling the Vihara and the adjacent town house whose rent had provided the basis for support for the Sangha — in order to purchase an unsurveyed and ramshackle mansion.
The new owners allowed the Sangha to use the Vihara for a couple of months to receive the Venerable Ajahn and to effect their move. In this atmosphere of insecurity, Ajahn Chah added one more doubt by intimating that he was going to take Ajahn Sumedho back to Thailand.
While the Sangha members watched their minds, he went off to America for a visit and there was nothing else to do but go ahead.
On 22nd June , having bundled as much as we could into a removal van, we left London for Sussex. Chithurst House really was a mess. Small work parties sent down earlier had done some preliminary work on clearing the grounds, but they had been denied access to the main house. The owner had let the place run to seed: uncleared gutters had broken and spilled water over the walls so that dry rot had spread.
As things had broken down they had been abandoned; when we moved in, only four of the twenty or so rooms were still in use. The electricity had blown, the roof leaked, the floors were rotten and there was only one cold-water tap for washing. The house was full of junk: all kinds of bric-a-brac from pre-war days. The outbuildings were crumbling, roofs stoved in by fallen trees. The cesspit had not been emptied for twenty-five years. The gardens were overgrown: a fine walled fruit garden was a chest high sea of nettles.
Over thirty abandoned cars protruded through the brambles that smothered the vicinity of the old coach-house. But as we started to scrape through the mess, it felt all right. The situation left no alternatives: for better or worse, opinion was polarised and those who disagreed left. So the omens were good.
But at first it was enormous fun. The summer was fine, we had a steady influx of volunteer labour, and we all worked hard. We were loaned a marquee by a local Buddhist businessman, which served as a kitchen and dining hall. The weeds and debris in the grounds were attacked, temporary showers installed, drainage cleared and work begun on the kitchen. It was a spiritual refuge that gradually took on a monastic form.
In September, the women were given a separate place to live when a beautiful little cottage adjacent to Hammer Wood was rented for their use. About a year after their ordination as anagarikas in October, it was purchased with an estate that actually forms the ecological heart of the forest.
Saddhatissa, using the River Thames as a sima boundary. This spectacle must have been more alarming than we thought, and at first there was a lot of mistrust and reserve in the minds of local people, who tended to bracket any Eastern religion in the category of cults of idol worshippers following strange or — even worse — no gods.
The discipline, with its emphasis on harmlessness and modesty, again helped us out where no amount of teaching of Buddhist Philosophy would have done. Our neighbouring farmer, for example, had been impressed that, although we were not going to kill the rabbits that live on our property and invaded his fields, we went to the trouble and expense of building a rabbit fence to keep them in.
It was our effect on the environment and our neighbours that finally made the district council grant Chithurst House monastic status, with the freedom to train bhikkhus and nuns and live the monastic life in its conventional way. This permission came in March ; meanwhile, the monastery had established itself in other ways. In the summer of we constructed a kitchen — but we shivered through the winter wearing caps, scarves and woollen underwear until the wood-burning stove that was to heat the house arrived in March Work continued throughout that year, during which time one-half of the house was gutted from basement to top floor.
Its rotten floors, doors and window frames were removed and burnt, so that we could create a new Shrine Room. The second winter saw a halt in the work programme, as available funds ran out. The monastery is totally dependent on donations, which tend to dry up in the winter. Ajahn Sumedho decided that this would be the perfect time for a monastic retreat, and this is the pattern that has established itself as a splendid yearly opportunity for a quiet period of intensive practice.
At the end of the monastic retreat in February , the Buddha finally came to Sussex in the form of a half-ton Buddha image sent by a generous lay supporter from Thailand. This was a cheering sign, and work began with renewed vigour. In the evening before Asalha Puja began the Rains of , the new Shrine Room, dominated by this radiant image, was finished. For that Rains, at last, the community had a long break.
Work had thus far been the major practice at Chithurst. Despite a couple of brief retreats, by and large the preoccupations were technical and material rather than scriptural or contemplative.
Sometimes work would go on well into the night to complete a project. One time, the dam by the cottage showed signs of breaking up — so, whatever, it had to be fixed as quickly as possible. People would get exhausted and complain about not being able to meditate, but for the most part they understood that it was a trial period, a changing condition that, like any other, could afford insight into the Four Noble Truths once the situation was accepted.
It was actually a very good time for practice: good Vinaya, good teaching, good support and a stable Sangha. A sima boundary, defining a consecrated area for ordinations and official Sangha functions, was established by Venerable Anandamaitreya on 3rd June in the monastery grounds where at times, in a teepee! The other principal use of the sima — for ordinations — was made possible by Venerable Anandamaitreya on the afternoon of its consecration, when he conferred thera sammati — the authority of an upahjjaya [See Note 7] on Venerable Sumedho.
On July 16th three anagarikas were ordained as bhikkhus there, bringing the total up to eleven. With this number it became possible to move people around, and the Ajahn was able to respond to a request for a branch monastery to be established at Harnham in Northumberland opened 23rd.
This monastery, originally an old farm-workers cottage, also grew in its next four years, until for the Vassa of , there were five bhikkhus and two anagarikas in residence. Currently , they are hard at work converting an adjacent building into a larger Dhamma centre for the North of England and the Scottish Borders.
This is one project among many for a Sangha that has diffused throughout Britain, as it and its support has grown. Local Buddhists set up a small monastery in Devon in , which now acts as a centre for that region; and in , the Amaravati Buddhist Centre was established in Hertfordshire as a national centre, on the initiative of the English Sangha Trust. An important consideration in the creation of Amaravati was the provision of more facilities for lay people.
Until this time, the Sangha generally travelled away from the monastery on invitation to teach, and retreats almost always were held in hired premises.
This meant that we were using accommodation that was not specifically designed with Dhamma practice in mind, and which therefore lacked the supportive qualities of a monastery; it also meant that retreatants had to cover the frequently high costs of facilities that were intended for rather different activities.
For his part, Ajahn Sumedho had a few further ideas in mind — a place that had a meeting hall large enough to hold the many people wishing to come to public talks and special occasions; enough living space for large numbers of guests to stay with the community and participate in their life of practice; and suitable residences for the increasing number of men and women asking for the Going Forth into the Holy Life.
Out of these wishes and a few minor miracles, Amaravati was born. Once a year — in the same way that Chithurst has the bhikkhu ordinations — Amaravati is the setting for women to ask for the Going Forth as Ten-Precept Nuns siladharas. So, with a mendicant lifestyle now available for women, the Holy Life is developing in conventional form as well as in numbers. And even as we are coming to terms with the possibilities that Amaravati has created, another branch monastery has opened and is flourishing in Stokes Valley, New Zealand near Wellington ; branch monasteries have been established in Kandersteg, Switzerland and Sezze Romano, Italy; and an invitation is being taken up to open a vihara in the United States, in California.
Relating to all this is awesome at times, because the life of the Sangha is nourished by something far larger than the energies of individual monks and nuns. We realise that Buddhism is providing for a spiritual need in a large number of Western people, although its conventions are undemonstrative and our Sangha is quite young.
With the sense of responsibility that this creates in the minds of the bhikkhus and siladharas there is a lot of effort going into supporting the faith of lay people, and into keeping the monastic training firm enough to make us fit for such responsibility. People living the household life have developed their practice in like fashion, and make full use of the monasteries.
In fact, of the few ceremonial occasions that we have during the year, the largest is the Kathina, which can only be organised by lay people. Moreover, the Kathina is simply an occasion for offering requisites to the bhikkhus — and yet this ceremony draws an attendance that far exceeds our normal number of visitors. What we have all realised, to our surprise, is the extent to which people are willing to live and support the Holy Life.
Rather than try to find ways to adapt the Sangha to Western conditions, Ajahn Sumedho considered it more important to establish the monastic life according to Vinaya and tradition, and allow it to adapt gradually — the way that it has done over the centuries in Asian countries. As always, a high standard of conduct is maintained; and with the native familiarity of most members of the Sangha with the ways of society in the West, people are finding the guidance and example of the community very relevant for their present circumstances.
Ajahn Mun Ajahn Chah Ajahn Sumedho Ajahn Chah spent his early years wandering and practising meditation in solitude, but in the s, at the request of local villagers, he settled down in a forest in Ubon province. Gradually other monks came to study under him and rudimentary huts were built. His was a style that was as down-to-earth as it was subtle, as humorous as it was profound, and both readily applicable and far-reaching. Nowadays, this number exceeds
The Nuns at Rocana & Aloka