Time has come for a change of leadership at Dhammapala Monastery. After this year’s Kathina ceremony on the 28th of October I will pass on the abbot’s sceptre to my successor. All in all I’ve spent 22 years in different roles in the monastery at the edge of the forest and the foot of the mountain. Arriving from England in 1993 as a seven year old monk (seven Vassa that is:-) I had initially assisted the previous abbot Ajahn Thiradhammo in the role of the traditional second monk. This was followed by a period of four years in Asia, before I rejoined the Sangha over here at the end of 1999. During the first five years of the new millennium a threesome leadership team emerged, consisting of Ajahn Thiradhammo, Ex-Ajahn Akincano and myself, with Ajahn Thiradhammo being the formally appointed abbot. With the disrobal of Akincano and Ajahn Thiradhammo’s move to New Zealand in early 2005 I found myself in the role of the single leader of a small Dhammapala Sangha. As the taking on of the leadership role was a conscious move – well negotiated and supported by the wider European Sangha – it gradually developed from an initially challenging into a very enriching and rewarding experience. Because Dhammapala is not a hermitage, but a well frequented place, where many people meet and practice together, a secluded lifestyle was only possible during certain times of retreat – about four months per year – and the main focus during the remaining time was always on serving and supporting fellow monastics and the connected lay community plus looking after the monastery itself (admin, building and maintenance). Admittedly this lifestyle was not in complete accordance with the recommendations of the early Buddhist texts, where looking after institutions was certainly not mentioned as one of the primary duties of a monk. But the times they are changing… and seem to ask for an appropriate response to new circumstances within new cultural environments.
When I first came across the teachings of Ajahn Chah, I was impressed by the way he responded to new environments and mentalities during his journeys to the Western world. There was always an openness towards the people he met, an interest in the unfamiliar social circumstances and a wise recognition of the cultural conditioning we are all living under, be it in the East or the West. Rather than reacting with bewilderment or even resistance to what he found in the West, he responded from wisdom and compassion to the sometimes strange situations he encountered. A living and breathing proof, that the application of Buddhist virtues is not limited to a particular cultural environment, but can be applied anywhere at anytime, provided the individual is prepared to reflect wisely. This discriminating wisdom can then see clearly the difference between conventional reality, which changes and differs all the time according to time and place, and the underlying unborn and undying reality, which does not change and to which the Buddha was continuously pointing to.
Before coming to Dhammapala, the new abbot Ajahn Abhinando had been living at Aruna Ratanagiri Monastery in Northern England for 15 years, serving as the vice-abbot of the monastery (a more complete bio here) . To take on the leadership of a small monastic community in the Swiss Alps is a challenge, which he now feels ready and happy to take on. He has already been living at Dhammapala since July 2017 and had ample opportunities to familiarize himself with the new social and physical environment. It was of major importance for both of us, that the transition would happen in a gradual rather than in a sudden and abrupt way. And so far things have been developing really well …
As for myself and the future: My intention is to spend at least one year away from Dhammapala, with the option to return in 2020, if the karmic winds are blowing me back into this corner of the world. I will certainly not return to the same role within the community as before, but would prefer to take a more background seat.
In 2019 I intend to spend extended periods of time in different monasteries of our tradition in Europe, initially until the middle of May of 2019 in the Italian monastery Santacittarama, approximately 50km northeast of Rome. I am looking forward to this new chapter in my life as a Buddhist monk and I am curious how I will respond to the uncertainty of life without a home base, which Dhammapala has been for me during the past 22 years.