These days, when I ask people how they’re doing, I often get answers saturated in worry. No wonder: in addition to the personal difficulties that life may present to us, quite a few aspects of the current greater picture weigh on our minds. The staying power of the pandemic, the ongoing violent conflicts such as in Myanmar and Yemen, and now the war in Ukraine with its worldwide effects, as well as the progressive warming of the earth’s atmosphere, with the resultant extremer weather, are not of a nature to lighten our mood. More than ever then, and especially if we are rather pessimistic about the short, medium or long-term prospects for humanity and our planet’s ecosystem, it is important that, without closing our eyes to the problems, we also keep in mind the beautiful things in our lives.
At Dhammapala Monastery such beauty is in constant supply for us to contemplate and delight in. Another quiet, uneventful winter has come to an end, in which we were able to devote ourselves to contemplation almost undisturbed, while being caringly supported by our winter retreat team and the many friends of the monastery. We appreciate it very much and are aware that we are in a privileged situation: Anumodana to all who helped!
To receive is beautiful, and so it is to give. We are glad to have the opportunity to share some of your generosity with other charitable projects. For a number of years now we have been able to pass on a small amount of the donations the monastery receives to charities operating in Myanmar and Ladakh respectively; some surplus food and household items that accumulate in our stores we can regularly pass on to local charities. And now the municipality of Kandersteg has taken in refugees from Ukraine, including a group of orphans, so we were happy to also participate in offering support to them as well.
Meanwhile, as the Covid pandemic is receding, at least temporarily, we too, somewhat more hesitantly than the Federal Council, have decided to withdraw some of our precautionary measures. The monastery is now open again for day visitors. Masks, however, are still compulsory for day visitors throughout the building. We will further adjust our measures – hopefully by lightening them – in accordance with the development of infection numbers. On our website you can always find out which measures currently still apply. One of our friends from the area recently passed away – unvaccinated – from Covid, and we also know people younger than us who are still suffering from long-term Covid even more than a year after their infection; and therefore believe it is better to remain cautious.
Death in general was a very present topic for us this winter. My mother passed away in December after suffering from cancer for a year and a half. It was sad for me to see my mother, still so very hungry for life and also very fit until she fell ill, suffering physically for all that time and then quickly fading away. But at least I could be with her for her final days, helping with her care and even holding her hand as she breathed her last at home. That was a blessing. It was inspiring for me to see how much her reflecting on the Buddha’s teachings and meditation helped her in this process, so that she could accept her death and die peacefully. After all she lived to 80 – the Buddha didn’t live longer either.
Some of you will remember Ajahn Natthiko from Sweden, who lived in Dhammapala Monastery from 2006 to 2008 and also after giving up monastic life remained a friend as Björn Natthiko Lindeblad. After four years of a very challenging illness (ADS) that increasingly reduced his bodily functions, he finally died in January in his native Sweden.
Also our former fellow monk Thanasilo from Germany died this winter, like my mother, of cancer. Thanasilo only stayed at Dhammapala for a very short time in the nineties, but visited a few times after returning to lay life, when he was called Robert again. At his request, at the end of May, we will hold a memorial ceremony for him here at the monastery with some of his friends and family members and afterwards will return his ashes to the elements.
The biggest event planned for this spring is as always our Wesak celebration. It is scheduled for May 15th and, like all our Wesak and Kathina celebrations from now on, will take place in the community hall here in Kandersteg. Ajahn Kongrit from England has announced his participation and will offer a Dhamma talk in Thai. This year we decided not to send out invitations in the mail. All information, including whether Covid measures, such as the obligation to wear masks, will still apply for Wesak, can be found on our website. Let’s hope that this year all our courses and events can be carried out as planned without pandemic interferences.
For the time being, at Dhammapala, we continue as a community of four monks. Ajahn Ariyo, from Hartridge Monastery in the Southwest of England, is hoping to stay with us until summer, although with Brexit that is not as easy as it used to be, due to the new residence restrictions for British citizens. The new Samanera that we announced for this winter in the end left us last November, rather unexpectedly and unannounced, when he was still an anagarika, presumably returning to the household life. Well then, three new applicants for the anagarika life have announced themselves for this spring and we’ll see if one or the other of them sticks with us. Tanja Klee, our new secretary, is already sticking with us. She came as a guest at the beginning of January to familiarize herself with her new, somewhat complex role over the winter, also with the help of Doris, our former secretary, and has now very competently taken over the monastery office.
With all good wishes,