Amaravati offers a variety of opportunities to deepen understanding of Buddhism and the ‘self’, in an environment that encourages peaceful reflection. Visitors come from all over the world. They stay for a day, a weekend or longer, perhaps to bring an offering, to learn meditation, or for a time of refuge from the stresses of the world.
When staying at the monastery one may also find opportunities to talk to a senior monk or nun. Guests are welcome to use the Temple and the library, and there are many opportunities to experience the teaching while working alongside members of the community in the kitchen, the gardens, the workshop, the office or any maintenance work.
During their stay guests are expected to observe the Eight Precepts and to participate in community activities. The routine of a typical day is shown here under ‘Daily routine’. As laid out, our daily routine starts in the morning at 5:00 am and involves morning meditation, cleaning, garden, kitchen and maintenance work, the meal, and washing up. The afternoon is usually unscheduled, though tea is available at 5:00pm in the main Sālā. The day ends with the 7:30pm evening gathering in the Temple for meditation and pūjā.
Any spiritual path has its rigours and rewards, inner and outer. Amaravati itself can be both very quiet and very busy with a whole mix of people visiting, for anything from a few hours, a day to three months.
Communal harmony is an important theme – it encourages sensitivity, reflection and attuning to the broader picture of what is happening around us. To work together in community with kindness, mutual respect and integrity may be challenging, but it can facilitate a real integration of the teachings into our lives.
While you are here, you are encouraged to bring awareness to the shared space you are in for your own benefit and that of others!
The largeness of Amaravati, and the amount of visitors we receive, mean often monastics (other than the guest monk or nun) will not seek out conversation. Some guests find this disappointing. For each of us, however, it can help us to recognize that much of our connectedness in reality comes in simply sharing everyday life. Here we are blessed to have a context of Dhamma, the daily work and practice together. To be here fully – with the schedule in its many different aspects and with other practitioners – brings a great deal of benefit.
Dhamma materials in the form of books, audio and video are available in our Amaravati library. We also have many Dhamma books for free distribution, especially teachings of Ajahn Chah and other teachers of the Thai Forest-Tradition.
The Temple is an important resource and you are welcome to use it during the day for your meditation practice.
At Amaravati, we are working with Buddhist practice in the midst of an active lifestyle. For those who are used to practising in a retreat environment, the challenge of integrating the practice in daily life can be both a difficulty and an opportunity. We are reminded to be mindful ‘in the four postures’, that is, standing, walking, sitting and lying down. Here are a few suggestions that may be helpful in developing consistency in practice amidst distractions and responsibilities.
Pay special attention to an activity that you perform many times a day, such as walking across the central courtyard, or a task you have agreed to perform, such as washing the dishes. Make the intention to do these simple things more mindfully. Watch what happens.
Silence is one of the most helpful restraints in developing mindfulness. Make an effort to watch how conversation affects mindfulness. Take time for solitude. Be sensitive to the needs of others for silence. Just because we need to speak to someone doesn’t mean we need to get involved in a long conversation.
The ways of the world are self-assertive, even pushy. Here, we try to give each other space and quiet, to go about things calmly and coolly. We practise giving way to others, not just in physical space but more importantly in the friendliness, kindness and willingness to support, which we carry in our hearts. We can reflect this without saying a word.
The tradition of kalyanamitta or spiritual friendship de- emphasizes the importance of a guru or teacher and stresses the importance of having good Dhamma friends. The Buddha emphasized that there is no authority in spiritual matters except one’s own direct experience of suffering and the end of suffering. No teacher, technique, environment, or retreat can give us the answers we seek. Only life lived mindfully can reveal the things we need to know. We strive to take full responsibility for what we learn while we are here.
In the monastery it is often said that “there is no place to go but inward”, and at times, on account of this, we encounter negativity, boredom or restlessness within us. It is especially important when such states arise to be mindful and restrained. It is just these states of mind which we must understand and conquer. It is when the ‘going gets rough’ that we want most to escape, and if we can stay with the practice at those times there is much that can be learned.
The form of the puja or community meditation periods includes bowing and chanting. When practised well, chanting can be relaxed, calming and joyful. It requires mindfulness and a certain level of concentration. It is a good opportunity for reflection and deepening understanding. You are welcome to join in.
For the monastic community the meal is a formal occasion, a daily reflection on the interdependence of lay people and monastics. All of us residing at Amaravati depend on dana for our daily sustenance. Everything at the monastery has been offered freely, and we strive to be worthy of sharing gifts offered from trusting hearts. Mindful attention while eating is one way of expressing gratitude for the food. To eat mindfully is of great spiritual benefit and of great benefit to our physical health.
Whenever we are not standing, sitting or lying down, we are going somewhere. Any step we make can be the ground of our awakening. Especially when walking from one building to another, we can be aware of the contact of our feet with the earth and of the air as it enters our bodies. It is a practice which is constantly possible and therefore has the power to transform our everyday life and to help others transform by example. We always come back to embrace the present moment, the only moment where life is available.
As the foundation of our life together, everyone staying in the community undertakes some level of precepts. These can act as guidelines for reflection, bringing deeper awareness into our relationship both to each other and to material things and so become a basis for liberating insight. They also provide a shared basis of trust in how we live together.
For lay guests you are asked to follow the Eight Precepts. In brief these are:
- To refrain from destroying living creatures
This means to refrain from deliberately causing harm to human beings or animals, even insects; unintentional harm (i.e. accidentally stepping on an ant) would not be breaking the precept.
- To refrain from taking that which is not given
This involves care and respect for the material things around us – those belonging to the monastery, to others and also our own possessions.
- To refrain from any kind of sexual activity
An important aspect of spiritual practice is the transformation of energy. This precept refers specifically to Sexual energy which can be transformed into ‘heart energy’. To support this process, our training in the community requires that all behaviour supports the practice of celibacy.
For lay guests, while you are here you should avoid cultivating intimate relationships. This means to avoid physical contact or actively seeking out the company of anyone to whom you may feel sexually attracted. Even in speech, it is important to be sensitive to time, place and topic, not creating or furthering situations in which sexual attraction may arise.
- To refrain from incorrect speech
To refrain from lying, swearing, gossiping, harsh speech and needless chatter. In other words learning to be silent when there is nothing in particular to say! This helps us to develop deeper truthfulness in ourselves and refines our ability to listen to others so that self centeredness can begin to fall away. This precept can also be extended to include respect and sensitivity to the silence and space we share here.
- To refrain from intoxicating drink or drugs which lead to carelessness
Consumption of even small quantities of alcohol is not permissible. Tea, coffee and drugs taken on prescription are fine. You are encouraged to stop smoking while you are here and it is strictly prohibited in any of the buildings.
- To refrain from eating at the inappropriate time
According to our renunciant tradition, the ‘proper’ time for taking food is between dawn and midday (12.00 GMT. 1.00pm BST). We ask that guests follow this observance. In addition to breakfast and a large meal served in the morning, tea, coffee etc are provided in the afternoon.
If there is some medical reason that makes it impossible for you to follow this, please speak with the guest monk; he will be happy to advise you about a suitable arrangement.
- To refrain from entertainment, beautification and adornment
Entertainment includes the use of radios, tape recorders (other than for listening to Dhamma talks or chanting) or musical instruments, as well as singing, dancing, sports or games. Yoga and Tai Chi are fine. ‘Beautification and adornment’ can mean refraining from trying to make yourself pleasant to others eyes with the aim to cause attraction of any kind.
- To refrain from lying on a high or luxurious sleeping place
This means to refrain from over-indulgence in sleep. Initially during one’s stay it may be necessary to rest in order to unwind, but after settling in, all guests should follow the daily routine.
Bhikkhus (monks) and Siladharas (nuns) live under similar, but more detailed, precept structures. This training brings together Dhamma and discipline. It is both worthy of respect and affects in a very immediate and practical way how we live and work together in the monastery. You might experience the upholding the Eight Precepts as a challenge at times, we like to encourage you to see them as a guideline for support to help you live your life in a more wholesome way.
The Buddha laid down the original discipline in the Sangha to support individual insight, communal harmony, encouragement and inspiration for others. As such, our precepts, at whatever level, are a meditation in themselves. As we work together and interact we can each find ways of refining our understanding and practice of Dhamma.
How to book?
Please note that guests cannot stay overnight from the beginning of January until the end of March due to the monastic winter retreat period. Of course, day visitors are always welcome during this period.
Bookings for overnight accommodation will re-open on 26th March 2018