All through the wintertime, except when he was on personal retreat, members of the resident community of monastics and lay people gathered to listen to Ajahn Amaro give teachings and respond to questions based on the book ‘The Island – an anthology of the Buddha’s teachings on Nibbāna’.
At whatever level the concept of ‘Nibbāna’ – unbinding, going out, coolness – was understood, and some of the texts we read were very refined indeed, there was a strong feeling expressed in the group that gathered throughout the retreat that there isn’t much that is more excellent than exploring these teachings in the company of spiritual friends, even when the language of what is being said is sometimes going completely over one’s head.
This reflected a major theme emerging from this winter retreat, that of harmony. Undoubtedly, not everyone’s days were spent in a cloud of happiness, with no-one having unpleasant experiences or always getting along with each other, but there was a tangible sense of harmony in the group. Not the kind of harmony that comes from doing one’s best to get along, gritting one’s teeth as one does so, but the harmony that is the natural result of being interested in what is good, in being interested in what is conducive to living together in a good way. And equally, of not being so interested in cultivating those things which would lead to conflict, to opposition.
In terms of the teachings on Nibbāna we explored, this is said to be related to the conceit of ‘I am’, to a basic sense of self-identity. In this case, conceit does not mean egotistical pride but simple conceiving. It is the the basic sense of being ‘here’, of feeling that one is made one way or another; that other people are there, they are like this or that. At the heart of ‘conceiving’ is a person that extends through time and space. Conceiving the ‘me’, ‘you’, ‘them’. Conceiving of ‘my stuff’, ‘my world’, ‘my experiences’. It is all seemingly very real and correct, and without thinking one has the perspective of ‘me’ in opposition to ‘that’. But if one takes time to examine, to reflect on this way of looking at one’s world, it is seen to be a source of pain and of conflict based on a perception that is not truly solid.
There is a quote from Ajahn Chah in the book that says: ‘All things are just as they are. They don’t cause suffering in themselves, just like a thorn, a really sharp thorn. Does it make you suffer? No, it’s just a thorn, it doesn’t bother anybody. But if you go and stand on it, then you’ll suffer. Why is there this suffering? Because you stepped on the thorn. The thorn is just minding it’s own business, it doesn’t harm anybody. Only if you step on the thorn will you suffer over it. It’s because of we ourselves that there is pain. Form, feeling, perception mental formations, consciousness … All the things in this world are simply there as they are. It’s we who pick fights with them. And if we hit them, they are going to hit us back’.
The retreat concluded on the 31st March. It was a real privilege for us to be able to devote all this time to exploring and developing the teachings, living with spiritual friends, with a teacher who never seems at a loss for words, no matter how unformed or difficult the question being asked. And as we move on, the generosity, deep gratitude and understanding generated remains available to share with our many visitors and to be a protection and support for everyone who practised here this winter, for us ‘to be an island onto ourselves’.
On a more mundane level, the winter saw the completion of building work on the access road and parking at the front of the monastery, in time for us to receive our many guests and visitors for the upcoming visit by Luang Por Sumedho. Other substantial changes involved re-decoration work in the sālā and fitting out the new nursing kuti in time for the visiting Elders. The sālā work in particular required the support team to be very flexible and run two kitchens for most of February. They helped with incredible efficiency and good grace. The result can be seen in the brighter meeting space available to the community and our visitors.
With the winter retreat now over, all the usual activities have started up again at Amaravati and preparations for Luang Por Sumedho’s visit are well underway. Regular visitors to the website will also be pleased to see that the Audio and Books section is being updated again with Dhamma talks and texts.
The Spring 2017 issue of Looking Ahead, contains essential information if you are thinking of coming to Amaravati to pay respects to Luang Por Sumedho or take part in the other activities and teachings being made available in May. There are also the usual announcements about retreats and any ceremonies happening over the coming months.
To read the newsletter, follow this link Looking Ahead Spring 2017 Newsletter
There are still opportunities to come and stay or help out during the month of May. To make a booking as a guest or find out about attending as a day visitor, go to the May 2017 Events pages
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