The visit to our sangha by Ajahn Jayanto and Tan Cagananda, along with their assistants John and Mark, was a full and rich experience for the more than forty people who interacted with them. They arrived on a Sunday and stayed overnight at Doreen’s home in Lebanon, where they shared lunch the next day with a small group of sangha members. They then made a short visit to Wonderwell, a nearby Tibetan Buddhist retreat center, where they made good contacts with the resident Lama. Later at the Friends Meeting House, a short reception with other Valley Insight community members was followed by a Dhamma talk by A. Jayanto, in which he reminded us that happiness is accessible right here and right now; life is not “supposed to be” any way other than how it is! It was a simple yet profound message given from the depth of his very powerful presence.
Since their visit here, the Council of the Elders in the Amaravati monastic lineage has given the okay to go ahead with establishing a monastery in Temple, New Hampshire, on the land currently owned by Bruce and Barbara Kantnor. Close to fifty people gathered with the monks at that site on Saturday, October 26th to share conversation and a meal, to formally acknowledge the land and the plans, and to walk the property. The property includes several well-equipped residential buildings as well as a large forest, where individual meditation huts (khutis) will be established for the monks. Ajahn Jayanto and Tan Cagananda will return next August to assume their residence and thereby establish the monastery.
Located about an hour and a half south of us, the Jeta Grove Monastery is not meant to be what we think of as a retreat center. It will be a place where monks will live and practice and where other monks can be trained. There will be accommodations for lay people to stay in order to participate in the work of the center and to practice with the monks; but there will only be three to five monastics, and the number of lay residents will not be allowed to exceed the number of monks.
The institution of Theravadan monastic tradition has survived in a form much as it was 2,500 years ago, and its continued existence makes it the longest existing human-created organization on earth. I thought of this as I was driving north on Interstate 89 after the gathering. The news on the radio was once again revealing all the indications that our shutdown government, our massive security systems, and our blindness to the earth’s suffering are tearing apart the fibers of our global society; the peoples and places of the world are ailing. The earth itself is ailing. I realized too, that to differing degrees, this has been true throughout recorded history. The ten thousand sorrows and trials and the ten thousand joys and kindnesses; cruelty and compassion; war and love; suffering and its end, all continue without cessation. In the midst of it all, the monks continue to practice. So can we. Their presence reminds and reassures us of the deeply stabilizing effect that our continued efforts on the path bring to our lives and to those we share our world with. The monks and nuns are a living metaphor of courage and commitment.
While they were staying with me, the flow of our conversation was always effortlessly connected to the Dhamma. At one point in this flow, we were reflecting that the early scriptures indicate that, on some occasions, when there was conflict in the early sangha, the Buddha would “go into the forest” and meditate until things calmed down. At some point, he would return to the group. One of our visiting monks said, “That is why we have Forest Monasteries, where people can come for refuge and respite.” Yes, that is true. It is also metaphor.
Several days later, I found myself repeating this exchange to a non-meditator friend. I was feeling conflicted about something and said, “I need a forest.” He said, somewhat naively, “You know how to meditate, don’t you?” In that moment, I understood the obvious. Our practice is the forest. And our practice is not just the daily, designated time of formal meditation. It is that, and that is very important in that it nourishes the forest, in a sense; but the forest is also every moment of clear awareness that arises in the course of our day. Every moment when we pause and see clearly and feel directly through our body is a forest: every time we notice “what is happening now” is respite.
The forest monastery existence in the world reminds us to cultivate the intention to slow down, pay attention, be patient, to be kind. We are very fortunate to have this forest monastery growing in such close proximity to us. It gives our sangha a chance to help take care of it as it grows –– both externally and internally.